Stan Van Gundy lasted just one season with the New Orleans Pelicans, which led many to jump to the conclusion that he was pushed out by the team’s young star players. Some speculated that Van Gundy must not have gotten along with Zion Williamson, but the coach says that was not the case.
Van Gundy discussed his firing during an appearance on the “STUpodity” podcast this week. He said it bothers him when players are blamed for coaching changes because those decisions are ultimately made by the front office. More specifically, he said Williamson was not responsible for him losing his job.
“I know this, regardless of what happened in that regard, Zion’s no coach killer,” Van Gundy said, as transcribed by ESPN’s Andrew Lopez. “He’s a guy who is gonna help you win a lot of games. He plays the game the right way. One of the things I’ll miss is the opportunity to continue to coach him. He’s so unique in the way that he plays the game and the things that he can do, it really gets your mind spinning as a coach and you have a lot of possibilities in what you can do with him. That was fun to explore. I’m happy with what we did with Zion. I think we helped him. How anyone else felt about that would be up to them.”
After Van Gundy was fired, a report from The Athletic claimed Williamson’s family was unhappy with Van Gundy. There has also been talk that Williamson and Brandon Ingram were frustrated with Van Gundy’s coaching style. Van Gundy said he never heard anything about that but did not rule it out.
“If they were unhappy, I didn’t hear about it,” the veteran coach said. “Zion was unhappy with us not winning more games, but Zion never expressed to me any of that. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t unhappy; it’s possible that they were unhappy with me and that’s what led to the change.”
Williamson had an outstanding individual season with 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. He shot 61.1 percent from the field. Despite that, the Pelicans failed to qualify for the play-in tournament.
The Pelicans are determined to keep Williamson happy, and they have already shown that in a variety of ways. Williamson may not have been responsible for Van Gundy’s firing, but it is safe to conclude that Van Gundy would still be with the team if Williamson wanted him to be.