The New Orleans Pelicans made the somewhat surprising decision to fire coach Stan Van Gundy after just one season. Although the move seemingly came out of nowhere, it certainly appears that it had been coming for a while.
According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, Van Gundy’s coaching and communication styles failed to connect with Pelicans players and staff. In addition, Van Gundy’s methodical offense and preference for playing veterans over younger players created friction with executive vice president David Griffin and the front office, who felt that Van Gundy was not making the most of the roster that had been constructed for him.
Most notably, Van Gundy seemingly had issues with the franchise’s star players, and his old-school style clashed with the team’s younger core and identity. The report states that the move to fire Van Gundy was partly to please Zion Williamson. Griffin wants Williamson used more as a primary ball-handler, a role Williamson apparently likes but Van Gundy was less sold on. Griffin and the team’s basketball operations also wanted to see the team play at a faster, less methodical pace than Van Gundy preferred.
Forward Brandon Ingram was also reported to have become unhappy with Van Gundy’s leadership.
The abbreviated preseason and lack of practices hurt Van Gundy’s ability to bond with his team, but it wasn’t just on-court issues that got Van Gundy fired. He also apparently failed to develop much of a relationship with Gayle Benson, the team’s principal owner.
It’s clear that Williamson is the player the Pelicans want to build around, and Griffin is actively trying to do things to increase the chances of him staying in New Orleans whenever he becomes an unrestricted free agent, which won’t be until 2024 at the earliest. That mindset led to statements like this one, and apparently it’s played a role in this coaching change as well.