“I hate when it gets put on players that players are getting coaches fired and things like that. I think that makes players look bad and I don’t think that’s fair,” Van Gundy said, during an appearance on the “Stupodity” podcast (h/t ESPN’s Andrew Lopez). “Players certainly have the right to express their opinion to people and things like that but front offices and owners make decisions and they are the ones who make decisions to fire people. That should never be placed on players.
“I know this, regardless of what happened in that regard, Zion’s no coach-killer. 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.”
Van Gundy’s comments were in response to a question regarding recent reports that alleged Williamson’s family was unhappy with him and that played a factor in Van Gundy’s departure from the team.
“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.”
Van Gundy was also asked if this was a mutual parting of ways.
“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.”
Van Gundy also spoke about his offseason meetings with Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin, and how the two just didn’t seem to see eye to eye.
“We just looked at coaching totally different,” Van Gundy said. “That became probably a little bit during the season but certainly after the season. We were on two totally different pages. Who’s right and who’s wrong is up to anybody’s individual perspective, but we certainly did not see things the same way.”
Van Gundy vouched for Pelicans assistant coach Fred Vinson while touting the attractiveness of the Pels coaching gig.
“But somebody else will have to take it the next step, and there’s a lot of good coaches out there,” Van Gundy said. “I still think it’s an attractive job. New Orleans is a great city. It’s a young team, too young quite honestly, needs to get older, and that was one of the problems. Two-thirds of our points were scored by guys 23 and younger. But there’s a lot of talent here, and you have a generational talent at the core of it.”
“But if you stick with a guy like Fred Vinson, he’s been here even before Alvin Gentry,” Van Gundy said. “But he was with Alvin, so he knows what the players went through then. He was with me so he knows what the players went through then. He doesn’t have to redo everything; he can stay with some stuff that is familiar to guys to ease the transition while putting his own imprint on the team.”
Van Gundy also praised the future of Williamson, and his immense potential.
“Over the next five, six, seven years, this guy’s gonna have incredible growth,” Van Gundy said. Now where he really needs to make progress if he wants to win is at the defensive end. I think he’s aware of that. He just has to get a lot better there. He’s struggled at the defensive end of the floor. That’s even more important than the shooting to me.
“But look, we had a very poor shooting team on the floor around Zion. We only had two guys who could really shoot the three, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. So Zion’s out there with not much shooting and the defense packed in and loaded up to him, and he still averaged 27 points on 61% shooting. I mean, he’s just a phenomenal talent and has great competitiveness. And you literally just cannot keep him from getting to the rim. There’s no way to play him to keep him from getting to the rim. Even when you know that’s where he’s going every time.”