“I don’t know anything about that,” Van Gundy said. “In my mind, I liked coaching Zion. I had a good relationship with him. I had no problem. I think we elevated his platform that we gave him. We put him in different situations, had him handling the ball a lot, playing a lot of point guard. I think we did some good things with him. “If they were unhappy, I didn’t hear about it. 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.”
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“I would say it was joint in this sense: I think you can understand this, I don’t want to be somewhere they don’t want me. And they didn’t want me. I wasn’t at that point going to fight to try to stay there,” Van Gundy said. “When I left Detroit, my owner there who I really liked Tom Gores, also said it was a mutual decision. I said yeah, ‘Tom asked me to leave so I left.’ I guess that’s mutual.”
According to several sources, tension arose between both coaches and Griffin when management tried to incorporate its preferences into player evaluations, rotations and general strategy. The strain led to a recognition of differing philosophies between the coaching staff and front office, pulling the Pelicans away from the “shared vision” Griffin so commonly refers to when addressing franchise goals.
For its part, the franchise is committed to the rapid timeline. They allowed Griffin to pull the plug after handing out two lucrative contracts, paying more than $12 million combined to send Gentry and Van Gundy packing. And now, they’re giving Griffin the flexibility to hire yet another coach. One who wants to work with Williamson, and channel his frustration into passion toward turning the franchise into a winning direction. It shouldn’t be a hard sell. Sources indicate the issue is far more about losing games than anything intrinsically about New Orleans, including the small market footprint.
Almost from the beginning, however, nothing has gone according to plan. Zion Williamson missed much of his first season after a preseason knee injury. The relationship with coach Alvin Gentry, whose contract he had extended upon arrival, almost immediately became rocky. At a November 2019 game in Phoenix, I watched as Griffin left his seat during a timeout, went to the bench and whispered something to trainer Aaron Nelson, who then walked over to Gentry and said something, who then signaled for a substitution. Sources say this was not the only time this happened.
Year 2 didn’t get much better. The same struggles with defense, late-game situations and blown leads that riddled the team under Gentry were just as prominent under Van Gundy, Griffin’s chosen successor. Again, the relationship between coach and exec quickly soured as well. Sources say it was obvious by the end of the year that Gayle Benson had to remove one of them. Meanwhile, former guard J.J. Redick ripped the team on his podcast after feeling he wasn’t dealt with honestly regarding a midseason trade.
Parting ways with Stan Van Gundy after just one season is not the biggest problem facing the New Orleans Pelicans. They have been unable to put together the right elements to make rising star Zion Williamson and his family happy, and multiple sources have told The Athletic that certain family members want Williamson on another team.
For months, sources from all NBA corners have pointed to the Pelicans as a heap of dysfunction. There was a growing unease between Van Gundy and his players, and Van Gundy and the New Orleans front office, which came to a head Wednesday with the veteran coach and organization agreeing to part ways with three years left on his contract. Most of the attention, however, from numerous sources across the league, has centered on Williamson’s family members’ thinly veiled unhappiness with the Pelicans, and whether those feelings seeped into the player’s own views.
The Pelicans control Williamson’s contract situation for at least three more years after making him the No. 1 overall pick of the 2019 draft. Those who know Williamson well say he just wants to win and compete at the highest level. They say he remains focused on basketball and helping New Orleans win next season.
During the training camp portion of the NBA’s season restart at Disney last season, Williamson was dealing with a minor leg injury, to the point where it had forced him out of portions of Pelicans practice. Shortly after that, he left the bubble for what both the team and player would only say was an “urgent family medical matter.” Neither the team nor family ever disclosed what the issue was. Two sources with knowledge of Zion’s absence said there was an issue, but questioned the urgency to leave the bubble, which kept him away from the team for about a week.
The Pels made changes to their support staff to fit Williamson’s wishes over the offseason, and he returned in much better physical condition. But for most of this season, certain Williamson family members voiced displeasure with the organization. Among the targets of their criticism was Van Gundy, who they felt was too rigid and demanding as head coach, but also with the organization, which they claim did not live up to what they felt should be the standard for a star like Williamson. Numerous opposing league executives had heard the complaints, and they were confirmed by Pelicans officials.
When the Pels traded J.J. Redick to Dallas in March, it not only upset Redick but also is said to have irritated Williamson. Redick had asked to either be traded before the season or to stay in New Orleans all season for family reasons and proceeded to blast the organization and executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin on his podcast after the trade. Redick was a veteran with whom Williamson had grown comfortable in their two seasons together, and the dysfunction Redick accused the Pelicans of harboring is said to have stoked some of Williamson’s own feelings with regards to the direction of the franchise.
Scott Kushner: FINAL: Magic 130, Pelicans 119. New Orleans has lost 12 consecutive games. A new franchise record for futility. This team stinks.
Will Guillory: Alvin Gentry said he isn’t concerned about his job status after a franchise-record 12th straight loss. Said his focus in on controlling what he can control.
Ryan Ward: Anthony Davis on dealing w unique situation: “Play basketball.” Mentally? “I’m fine mentally. Actually, great. I’m great mentally. I love playing basketball..I don’t let nobody steal my joy. No matter what it is. When I step in between the lines to play basketball I’m happy.”
After injuring his left shoulder late in the first half, sources say Davis left with Paul in order to undergo an MRI at the nearby Ochsner Medical Center (the injury, as reported by The Athletic on Thursday night, was deemed a muscle contusion and it remains unclear if he’ll play in the All-Star game). According to a source close to Davis, this decision to leave the game early had been relayed in real-time to Demps – but not from Demps to Gentry, whose postgame media scrum was the latest evidence of the frustration this Davis situation has caused.
According to sources on both sides, there is no plan yet in place for how they will handle this after the All-Star break. The Pelicans and Davis (with Paul advising) are re-evaluating the best way to handle his playing time – again.
Tim MacMahon: Alvin Gentry mentioned Anthony Davis left the building after injuring his shoulder. Asked if that bothered him, he said: “I’m going to talk about the guys who played the game. They did a great job. We found a way to win the game. That’s what’s important.”
Tim MacMahon: It’s reached paper-bag status for some Pelicans fans.
Tim MacMahon: Alvin Gentry, asked how Anthony Davis’ energy affects the Pelicans: “The bottom line is you’re a professional. You owe it to yourself to play. It shouldn’t be Anthony’s job to make you play hard.”
When asked about hearing boos from the crowd, he initially told reporters, “I don’t care. It doesn’t bother me.” However, he later admitted that getting that type of reception was a surprise for him, even after everything that transpired over the past two weeks. “I’ll always love the fans here. That was definitely awkward. I was like, ‘Boo? OK,’” Davis said. “It doesn’t matter. I’m going to go out there and play basketball. … It’s life, man. Some people aren’t going to like you.”
Oleh Kosel: The New Orleans Pelicans fall 126-114 to the San Antonio Spurs, fall to six games under .500 and have the Rockets, Nuggets, Spurs and Pacers up next on the schedule. Looking awfully bleak, and it feels like even one big trade won’t help turn things around…
Scott Kushner: Alvin Gentry said “we are still not giving up on the season”
Scott Kushner: FINAL: Kings 122, Pelicans 117. Pels have lost four straight. They’re in a whole heap of trouble.
Scott Kushner: Anthony Davis said he’s not frustrated. He’s disappointed. Reiterated several times it is a long season. He lamented the #Pelicans lack of energy again.
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August 2, 2021 | 7:49 am EDT Update
There is a strong possibility that Howard returns for a third go-around with the Lakers. Howard won a title with the Lakers in 2020, but he bolted to the 76ers last season. Now, there appears to be interest on both sides to have Howard back for his physical and defensive play. Howard, 35, averaged 7.0 points and 8.4 rebounds in 17.3 minutes last season in Philadelphia, his 17th in the NBA.
Rob Schaefer: Zach LaVine on what he’s conveyed to Bulls about a potential extension. If Bulls decide to take route to cap space, pursuing upgrades through free agency or renegotiating + extending LaVine’s current contract are two options on table.
Barry Jackson: ESPN reports tonight that New Orleans and Dallas – two Lowry suitors – have begun to look elsewhere for point guards. The Dragic/Achiuwa package should get this done for Lowry barring any late issues; Achiuwa hasn’t yet been informed because talks can’t begin until 6 p.m. Monday.
Donatas Urbonas: Ignas Brazdeikis will play for the Orlando Magic in the NBA Summer League, per sources. Brazdeikis averaged 11.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2 assists in 8 NBA games with Orlando last season.
Rob Schaefer: Zach LaVine on keeping up with Bulls’ free agency from Tokyo: “I should have a good idea what’s going on. I take that very serious, keep up to date with what’s going on back home, but obviously still get my rest cause we got a game tomorrow. One way or another I’ll find out.”
August 2, 2021 | 1:19 am EDT Update
“It looks like [Kawhi] is expected to re-sign with the Clippers, but sources informed me that he will listen to other teams.” @ChrisBHaynes on Kawhi Leonard’s free agency