After spending two years away from coaching, Stan Van Gundy will be making his NBA return as the new head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, sources told ESPN. Van Gundy’s deal is for multiple years but the financial details have not yet been shared by either side since the deal was struck on Wednesday morning, according to sources.
Van Gundy, who has been been an ESPN/TNT commentator over the past two years, has had success in the past, coaching the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, and Detroit Pistons to a 523-384 (.577) regular season record and a 48-43 (.527) postseason mark, including a trip to the 2009 Finals with Dwight Howard and the Magic.
Van Gundy will be replacing Alvin Gentry, who had held the post for five years until he was let go after a disappointing performance from the young Pels during the seeding games in the bubble. There was some unfounded chatter that the seeding games were an elaborate setup to get Pels rookie phenom Zion Williamson into the playoffs since New Orleans had the easiest schedule during the restart.
Instead, they went 2-6 and finished 13th in the Western Conference. Though Gentry is a respected guy in NBA circles, the youthful team seemed less than inspired by his leadership down the stretch of this last season. With the amount of young and veteran talent left on this roster, not to mention the draft picks still coming their way thanks to that enormous Anthony Davis package, Van Gundy will be expected to lead this team—which oddsmakers are decently high on, putting New Orleans’ championship chances at odds of 51.00 on 888sports, 14th in the league—into the playoffs and beyond after last year’s disappointment.
The Pelicans have not been great over the past decade, making the playoffs just twice in nine years, and last year that had a lot to do with their defense. They were 21st in defensive rating (111.8), 29th in opponent points off turnovers (19.6), 26th in opponent second chance points (13.6), and 28th in opponent points in the paint (52.2). They’ve also got the seventh youngest roster in the league, with an average age of 24.6 years.
Van Gundy, known as one of the great teachers and defensive minds in the game, is the perfect antidote for both of New Orleans’ main issues. He can be great for the development of these young guys, while also instilling a sense of defensive pride in this team: Van Gundy squads have finished in the top 10 in defensive rating in eight of the 11 seasons that he finished as the head coach.
He has his work cut out for him, but at the same time he’s got one of the most exciting young groups of unbelievably talented players, and they’ve all got some pretty good draft pedigree. Van Gundy takes over a team that features Williamson (no. 1 overall pick, 20 years old), Jaxson Hayes (no. 8, 20 y/o) Lonzo Ball (no. 2, 22 y/o), Alexander Nickeil-Walker (no. 17, 22 y/o), reigning Most Improved Player Brandon Ingram (no. 2, 23 y/o), Jahlil Okafor (no. 3, 24 y/o), and Josh Hart (no. 30, 25 y/o) alongside veterans J.J. Reddick and Derrick Favors.
If that doesn’t convince you that the future is bright in New Orleans, this should do the trick: they’ve got three second round draft picks on top of the no. 13 overall in the upcoming draft and have additional Lakers picks coming their way sometime in the next couple of years as well. Van Gundy can come in and develop these youngsters while also instilling defensive values in them, which is why this signing could be a match made in heaven for New Orleans.