An entire generation of basketball fans know Jeff Van Gundy as the quick-witted antagonist who often makes ESPN and ABC television broadcasts as amusing as they are informing. It’s been eight seasons since he last stalked the sidelines with the Houston Rockets, and verifiable whispers of his desire to resume coaching have been surprisingly scant in the interim.
According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, Van Gundy is currently being considered for the New Orleans Pelicans’ job.
Jeff Van Gundy has emerged as a candidate for the New Orleans Pelicans‘ head-coaching position, according to league sources. Sources told ESPN.com this week that the ESPN analyst has expressed interest in the opening and is under consideration for the job, which opened when the Pelicans dismissed Monty Williams earlier this month.
The Pelicans fired Williams on May 12, after he guided the team to the playoffs in 2014-2015. Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, and Golden State Warriors lead assistant Alvin Gentry have been rumored as favorites to succeed Williams, and Stein’s report confirms they remain in the running to do so – just with a new candidate alongside them.
Van Gundy compiled a 430-318 overall regular season record as coach of the New York Knicks and Rockets from 1995-1996 to 2001-2002 and 2003-2004 to 2006-2007, respectively. He has a 44-44 career playoff record, and led the eighth-seeded Knicks to a shocking NBA Finals berth during the lockout shortened season of 1998-1999. Most famously, New York used six games to beat the heavily favored Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals despite the loss of star big man Patrick Ewing in Game 3.
The 53 year-old’s tenure with Houston, though successful from a win-loss standpoint, is considered a missed opportunity. Houston acquired perennial MVP candidate Tracy McGrady to pair with the burgeoning Yao Ming for Van Gundy’s second season on the job, and he subsequently led the starry squad to three postseason appearances – including campaigns of 51 and 52 wins. But injuries always kept the Rockets from reaching their immense potential; Ming never played more than 57 games under Van Gundy, while McGrady’s career-derailing back issues originally cropped up early in 2005-2006. Van Gundy was relieved of his duties in May 2007 after Houston lost a seven-game first-round series to the Utah Jazz.
Known first and foremost as a defense-first drill sergeant during his coaching days, it’s crucial to note that the stats support Van Gundy’s embrace of analytics while with the Rockets. None of his Houston clubs ranked below 11th in three-point rate, and his 2006-2007 team led the league in that category. The Rockets allowed the fewest share of attempts at the rim during Van Gundy’s last three years as coach, too. The off-court influence of GM Daryl Morey and on-court one of Ming no doubt account for a portion of those developments, but they’re feathers in Van Gundy’s coaching cap nonetheless – ones that are easily overlooked in hindsight.
His long-standing reputation as one of basketball’s best defensive minds coupled with an obvious appreciation for tenants of the modern game stand to eventually make Van Gundy a successful coach once again. New Orleans’ established strengths and weaknesses under Williams seem an especially good fit for his return to the bench, too. Anthony Davis would be the third superstar big man under his tutelage, and Van Gundy’s unceasing commitment to scheme would surely limit the Pelicans’ sweeping defensive woes.
He’s clearly been waiting for an ideal confluence of time and talent. Does New Orleans in 2015 represent that junction? That’s only for Van Gundy to say, but anyone would be foolish to pass up the chance to coach a player like Davis at this point in the 22 year-old’s career – whether the talent surrounding him is up to snuff or otherwise. He’s that good.
Van Gundy knows it, and his reported interest in New Orleans’ opening makes it seem like this is the opportunity he’s long sought. By all accounts, the ball is in the Pelicans’ court. For sake of Davis and the franchise’s immediate and long-term hopes, here’s hoping they don’t drop it.
*Statistical support for this post courtesy of basketball-reference.com.