Pros and Cons for Golden State Warriors Hiring Stan Van Gundy
After making the decision to fire head coach Mark Jackson following a 51-win season and a first-round playoff exit, the Golden State Warriors are reportedly targeting Stan Van Gundy to fill the job opening.
Jackson became yet another victim in the line of coaches relieved of their duties following successful seasons. The Denver Nuggets fired George Karl after a 57-win campaign in 2012-13. The Memphis Grizzlies, meanwhile, parted ways with Lionel Hollins despite a Western Conference Finals run.
Now it’s possible that SVG will have to live up to the organization’s lofty standards. He hasn’t coached in the NBA since 2011-12, but successful stints with the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat remain his calling card.
Bringing in the mustachioed Van Gundy brother has its fair share of pros and cons. He's a proven winner, but can he follow the yearly improvement Jackson put on his own coaching resume?
Management needs a perfect candidate to replace Jackson. Van Gundy’s overall experience and impact on specific players would make him an intriguing hire.
Con: Players Backed Mark Jackson
This is the most prominent and obvious negative regarding the Dubs’ coaching search. The players already on board wholeheartedly supported Jackson.
Veteran center Jermaine O’Neal said during the first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, “You get the feel that no matter what happens, our coach won’t be our coach next year. You just get that feel. But we are willing to give all we’ve got for this group, for that coach,” per USA Today’s Sam Amick.
All-Star point guard Stephen Curry also chimed in to defend Jackson by saying, “All the while, we’re just trying to win, and our record’s gotten better every year. That’s the standard of good coaching to me. I don’t know what else you’d want from him,” per Leung.
Despite receiving unwavering support from the guys in his locker room, the 49-year-old wasn’t retained.
Just like the Tupac song, though, life goes on. Golden State will be moving forward with a new head coach, even though it appears the players did not want that to be their reality.
In an interview with the Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami, owner Joe Lacob said, “I would even say (Curry) loves Mark Jackson as a friend as a coach. I understand that, we understand that. But I think he also likes this organization a lot and he trusts this organization.”
Keeping Curry happy has to be the goal for Lacob and Co. moving forward. His presence as an on-court leader and alpha dog is more important than any coach the front office puts on the sideline.
Fans best hope that the three-point sharpshooter truly trusts the organization’s decision-making.
Pro: SVG's Bay Area Roots
Van Gundy’s overall comfort level with the personnel he’ll be coaching is important, but another prominent factor is his personal ties to the Bay Area.
SVG grew up there, attended Alhambra High School in Martinez, Calif. and was even a fan of the Warriors growing up.
According to the Orlando Sentinel’s Josh Robbins, Van Gundy said the following of the coincidental connection:
“When I was a sophomore in high school, the Warriors won the NBA championship in 1975 led by Rick Barry. Al Attles was their coach. I was a huge fan, and everybody knows that, and so I think that’s why my name comes up when it’s associated with that job in particular.”
In this case, life would have a funny way of coming full circle for Van Gundy. He grew up a Warriors fan; now he reportedly has the opportunity to coach the franchise decades later.
That doesn’t sound like an opportunity he’d pass up.
Con: Unrealistic Expectations?
In three seasons at the Warriors’ helm, Jackson improved the team’s record each consecutive year from 23-43, to 47-35, to 51-31—and lost his job.
Not only will Van Gundy be under pressure to trump Jackson’s win total of 51 and earn a Western Conference playoff seed more favorable than No. 6, but he’ll also have to guide the roster to a successful postseason run.
That won’t be an easy feat in the loaded West, where the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers reside. Even underrated teams like the Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks commanded respect in the playoffs by making some noise.
Provided the injury-prone roster the Dubs possess—Curry (ankles), David Lee (hip, hamstring, groin) and Andrew Bogut (just about everything)—Van Gundy may not even have the luxury of competing at full strength.
Lee missed the majority of the postseason in 2013, while Bogut didn’t play a single minute beyond the regular season this year.
Given the circumstances, Jackson got his team to compete admirably. That still didn’t help his job security.
The organization will have to temper its expectations and understand that transitioning to a new coach will be a process.
Pro: SVG's Impact on Centers
The most prominent chunk of Van Gundy’s coaching career was a five-year stint with the Orlando Magic from 2007-08 through 2011-12. His teams never missed the postseason during the span and reached the NBA Finals in 2009.
Dwight Howard peaked as a professional under SVG after spending the first three seasons of his career under the following coaches: Johnny Davis, Chris Jent and Brian Hill.
He made the All-NBA First Team in every year under Van Gundy and won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year Award three times.
Polish center Marcin Gortat, meanwhile, played sparingly under the veteran coach as D12’s backup from 2007-08 through 2010-11 when he was traded to the Phoenix Suns. Nevertheless, Gortat learned valuable lessons under SVG that he still cherishes today.
In a November interview with James Herbert of SB Nation, the “Polish Hammer” said the following of his first NBA head coach:
He was a godfather of my career. He basically taught me everything. He gave me the discipline, he told me the most important things in basketball. He taught me what to do, how to act and how to prepare yourself for the game. … If one day he’s going to be back in the league, I would like to play for him.
That’s high praise from a player who didn’t get much court time in SVG’s system due to a matter of circumstance.
Van Gundy has had a lasting impact on two rock-solid NBA centers. If Bogut manages to stay healthy in 2014-15—an admitted long shot—could SVG make the same impact for the Aussie’s career?
If nothing else, he puts his players in a position to succeed. I’d like to see what he could do with another No. 1 overall pick who has underachieved due to injuries.
Con: Can Ownership Coexist with Established Coach?
Having just fired a respected coach who won 51 games and improved from a win/loss standpoint in three consecutive seasons, it’s fair to say Golden State’s front office is under some intense scrutiny.
In the interview transcribed by Kawakami, Lacob said the following when asked if Jackson was “having issues with staffers”—seen as a potential cause for his termination:
Look, I don’t think we should get into the great details of what did happen, other than to say that this is a decision that was based on what was good for the organization as a whole.
And when I say the organization as a whole I don’t mean just the team and just the 15 players that are involved and the coaching staff. I mean everybody. There’s 200 employees here.
So when we look at the organization going forward and the kind of coach we want and… not just the performance but everything else, all these factors matter. We took all that account.
If Van Gundy was to accept a job with the Warriors, it’s important to note that this isn’t his first rodeo. Unlike Jackson—who was hired out of the broadcast booth with no prior coaching experience—Van Gundy has been in and out of NBA coaching gigs since 1995.
Simply put, he’s going to know the ins and outs of what he wants to see with an ownership group.
Could interaction between he and Lacob thwart a potential deal?
It's certainly possible, but Jackson seems to fit a one-of-a-kind prototype. Perhaps Lacob won't experience friction with a more mature coach in SVG. If he starts interfering with the job Van Gundy wants to do, however, there will be some issues.
Pro: Similarities to Orlando Magic Team
Jackson’s crew failed to make it out of the Western Conference first round against the Clippers after upsetting the Nuggets in 2013. As a result—going back to the potentially lofty expectations from management—Van Gundy would need to improve upon those results to gain trust and job security.
On a positive note, this Warriors team is built similarly to the 2008-09 Magic that reached the Finals. Granted, they don’t have an interior force in the mold of Howard at his zenith. However, with Lee’s offensive skill set and Bogut as the defensive anchor, the Dubs do have pieces that can combine to make the impact of Howard.
Add perimeter threats like Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes launching threes and we could see Van Gundy emulate his Orlando teams of old by spreading perimeter guys around post-up big men.
Of course, any strategy should start and end with Bogut. The front office has invested in the injury-ravaged big man through the 2016-17 season, and he'll be making at least $11 million per year, according to Shamsports.com. He’ll continue to be a huge part of the team’s identity simply due to the money he’s set to be paid.
G-State has the core necessary to compete for a championship. Health, the addition of role players and the correct coach for the job will make or break that outlook when Curry and Co. hit the court again.
Van Gundy is the front-runner for the job. While his resume is impressive, he’ll have to validate management’s decision to part with Jackson for the sake of the fanbase.