Van Gundy out after 1 season as Pelicans coach

Stan Van Gundy is out as the coach of the New Orleans Pelicans after just one season with the franchise, sources told ESPN on Wednesday morning.

Van Gundy and Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin have been engaged in talks for weeks according to sources.

New Orleans finished a disappointing 31-41 last season and fell short of making the play-in tournament in the Western Conference.

During exit interviews on May 17, Van Gundy told reporters it was a tough year because of how the season played out because of COVID protocols around the league.

“It was a hard year personally because when I took the job, we didn’t know when training camp was going to start or any of that stuff,” Van Gundy said. “I had not really given a ton of thought to condensed training camp, condensed season, COVID protocols. That stuff was really, really difficult from a personal standpoint. For me to go into Detroit and have my kids nearby and I can’t see them. That kind of stuff. Having to limit people being able to come and visit us and things like that. On a personal level it was difficult.

“But on a basketball level, I thought this was a great situation basketball wise and it’s better than what I thought it was. I wasn’t happy with the results. I wasn’t happy with myself on some things basketball wise. But as far as looking at the job as a whole, it’s even better than I expected and I expected it to be good.”

Van Gundy and the Pelicans had an up-and-down season culminating in another missed playoff trip for New Orleans. New Orleans was hopeful that Van Gundy was going to be able to establish a defensive presence but the results were far from that. The Pelicans finished 23rd in defensive rating (113.3) and 25th in opponent three-point percentage (38.0).

The Pelicans did improve from 29th in defensive rating (116.3) prior to the All-Star break to seventh (110.4) after, but the team’s offensive rating went the same way. They were sixth (115.6) before the break and 21st after (110.4).

Consistency was lacking throughout the year for New Orleans. When things finally looked to be heading in the right direction, injuries to Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Zion Williamson derailed New Orleans once again. New Orleans also struggled in close games this season. They lost a league-high 14 games when holding a double digit leads. They went 3-10 in games decided by three points or less.

“We were a very young, developing basketball team. While we have players with incredible talent, we don’t have the winning mettle yet,” Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin told reporters on May 17, the day after the regular season ended.

“We know that to some degree. We know this is a process and it takes times. But we also have to take a look at ourselves, front office, coaching, players. Is what we are doing working? Are we doing enough for the group to create winning? That’s what our focus is going to be.”

New Orleans got off to a 4-2 start but things quickly went south. The Pelicans lost eight of their next nine games and never climbed back to .500 for the rest of the season. In the end, the Pelicans finished 31-41, just a one game improvement from their 30-42 record in the shortened 2019-20 campaign, after which the team dismissed coach Alvin Gentry.

Van Gundy joins Nate Bjorkgren as coaches who parted ways with their team after being hired prior to the season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the fifth time in the last 30 seasons that multiple teams changed coaches who were with the franchise for just one season.

New Orleans was Van Gundy’s fourth coaching stop as an NBA head coach and his first since sitting out the last two seasons. Van Gundy had success at his first two stops in Miami (.605 winning percentage) and Orlando (.657). He even guided the Magic to an Eastern Conference Finals.

However, Van Gundy had just one winning season in four years with the Detroit Pistons from 2014-18. The 61-year-old Van Gundy has a career record of 554-425 (.566).

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