Different can be good, as long as it's the right kind of different. Jackson didn't play well with others, and his in-game strategizing (when it wasn't being handled by his assistants) left fans hoping he'd take a less-is-more approach with his involvement.
The Warriors must decide what they want in their next coach: a yes-man who creates harmony within the organization, or a tactical genius capable of maximizing the tantalizing talent this roster has.
If the front office is focused on realizing its championship dreams, the choice is simple: You take the tactician.
According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports, that process has already started:
The Warriors have contacted former NBA head coach Stan Van Gundy about their head coach opening, a source told Yahoo. No interview set yet.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) May 8, 2014
Not only are the Warriors interested in Van Gundy, but he's also reportedly intrigued by the position:
Former NBA coach Stan Van Gundy has interest in the job, a source said. Van Gundy has not had interest in openings with Lakers and Wolves.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) May 8, 2014
During an appearance on 740 AM's Open Mike show Thursday, Van Gundy confirmed there has been contact between the two sides but said it's too early in the process to determine if either one is truly interested in the other.
"I have not met with them or anything else," he said, via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. "There have been calls to gauge interest, and until you get a chance to actually talk to somebody, it’s even hard to say if they’re interested or if I would be [interested]. So we’re not at that point of even sitting down and talking yet."
A Bay Area prep hoops star in a past life, he's been doing some broadcasting work and spending time with his family since parting ways with the Magic in 2012. Despite being chased by several NBA teams in 2013, he was content and comfortable with his current setup.
That hasn't necessarily changed. "Part of me does and part of me doesn't" want to return to coaching, he said, adding, "It would really have to be a great situation for me to get back in."
The Warriors could be that situation. They have enough intriguing pieces in place to convince him that they are, at least. Besides, Van Gundy said he was a "huge fan" of the team growing up, via Robbins, so perhaps what's left of that passion will be enough to persuade his family that this position would justify a cross-country move.
For Golden State, the justification for an all-out chase to get Van Gundy is simple.
"Stan Van Gundy would be a great fit anywhere," Grantland's Zach Lowe wrote.
Van Gundy is a winner. He went 371-208 in seven-plus seasons as a coach, making seven different playoff runs and guiding the Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals.
He's a little rough around the edges, which could scare off this regime given the canyon that existed between it and Jackson.
If you can live with a few cringeworthy soundbites, though, the potential payoff could be massive, as MagicBasketball.net's Eddy Rivera explained in 2012:
Van Gundy had his flaws. He wasn’t infallible by any means. He was stubborn. He was demanding. He was overly negative at times and relentless with his coaching style, though he learned to loosen up a bit over time during his stint with the Magic — acquiescing to Dwight’s wishes to be more positive and changing his sideline demeanor.
But at the end of the day, Orlando was almost always well-prepared, well-coached, and Van Gundy almost always knew how to maximize the talent he had at his disposal. The Magic usually overachieved rather than underachieved and that spoke to Van Gundy’s coaching acumen.
Well-prepared, well-coached, talent maximized—when's the last time any of those words have been muttered around this franchise?
A master motivator, Jackson could light a fire under his players, and those flames made an impact (98 wins over the past two seasons, back-to-back playoff trips for the first time since 1991-92). Put a whiteboard in his hand and ask him to draw you up a basket, though, and you'd have as much luck getting museum-quality work from a three-year-old with a box of Crayolas and an empty wall.
The Warriors did build a formidable defense under Jackson's watch, but assistant coach Darren Erman (fired in early April) may have played the biggest part in its construction. Without Erman, the Warriors were gouged by the Los Angeles Clippers in the opening round (111.7 points allowed per 100 possessions, second-worst in the postseason, per NBA.com).
Defense isn't optional under Van Gundy. Between his coaching mind and the individual talent in place at that end (most notably Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green), none of the strides made over the past few seasons should be lost.
Offensively, this group should find the explosiveness under Van Gundy's guide it should have had all along. There's no reason a team with this many scorers, shooters, passers and slashers should be ranked 12th in offensive efficiency. Unless, of course, you incessantly beat a nonexistent isolation drum as Jackson so often did during his tenure.
"Fans frustrated with the Warriors' unimaginative offense under Jackson should already be giddy about the possibilities for Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and company should Van Gundy end up on Golden State's sideline," CBS Sports' James Herbert wrote.
How would Golden State's offense look under Van Gundy?
I'm not really sure, and that's a compliment to the coach's versatility, as explained by Grantland's Jared Dubin:
Van Gundy is one of a very few coaches known to shape his system to the personnel on hand, rather than imposing a strict system on whatever roster he winds up with. He can be a “fit” for nearly any job he chooses...Most remember Van Gundy as a four-out, spread pick-and-roll devotee, one of the first to truly emphasize the importance of 3s and experiment with "stretch 4" types with the Orlando Magic. But before that, his Miami Heat teams slowed the pace down, almost always deploying two traditional bigs at the same time, and playing largely through Shaquille O’Neal in the post or an isolated Dwyane Wade on the wing.
The Warriors can go different ways with their attacks.
They can play at a controlled tempo, grinding out defensive stops and relying on Van Gundy's strategic savvy to create clean looks for sharpshooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. They could unleash a full-throttle attack, capitalizing on their athleticism on the wings (Iguodala, Harrison Barnes), Curry's creativity in the open court and two of the best passing bigs in the NBA (Bogut, David Lee).
Van Gundy could handle either scheme or anything in between.
That's not a claim you can make about any of the Warriors' other coaching targets, a list that Spears has reported could go eight names deep:
NBA source says Warriors are expected to consider as many as eight candidates. Lionel Hollins, Mike D'Antoni, George Karl & Steve Kerr among— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) May 8, 2014
George Karl and Mike D'Antoni can ramp up the offense but do it at the expense of the defense. Lionel Hollins knows defense, but he's had front-office clashes and stagnant offensive play in his past.
Steve Kerr is reportedly Warriors owner Joe Lacob's pick, via Frank Isola of the New York Daily News. Kerr is still said to be leaning toward the New York Knicks, a source told ESPN New York's Ian Begley, but the Warriors seem to have made it a two-team race to land the former sharpshooter.
Kerr has personal ties to the franchise, but this coaching search needs to be decided for basketball reasons. Under that lens, there is no better candidate than Van Gundy:
I don't know anything about Warriors' thinking. But if Stan Van Gundy wants the job, he'd be a tremendous fit.— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) May 8, 2014
Kerr's name has sizzle. Van Gundy's has substance.
Who should coach the Warriors next season?
The Warriors went outside the box in hiring Jackson three seasons ago, and the temptation to get creative might be strong again this time around.
They can't overthink this, though. Not with someone of Van Gundy's ilk potentially waiting on their call.
Kerr could help guide the Warriors far away from this Jackson fiasco. Van Gundy could lead them down the path that really matters.
If the Warriors want the recognition of a true title contender, they have to make the hire that gives them the best chance to reach that status. They have to choose the right kind of different.
Statistics used courtesy of NBA.com.