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Stan Van Gundy clears air on split with Pelicans

/ 02:14 PM July 03, 2021
New Orleans Pelicans v Dallas Mavericks

FILE —  Stan Van Gundy of the New Orleans Pelicans in the first quarter at American Airlines Center on February 12, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images/AFP 

Former New Orleans Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy says he doesn’t think star forward Zion Williamson or any other players were associated with his departure.

Van Gundy, who parted ways with the Pelicans on June 16 after just one season with the team, said Williamson is no “coach killer.”

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“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 on the “Stupodity” podcast. “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.”

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Williamson, the No. 1 overall pick in 2019, made his first All-Star team in 2020-21 and averaged 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 61 games.

Asked about reports that Williamson’s family was unhappy with him, Van Gundy said he didn’t know anything about it.

“If they were unhappy, I didn’t hear about it,” he 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.”

The Pelicans did not qualify for the playoffs after posting a 31-41 record under Van Gundy in 2020-21. They won four of their first six games to start the season before failing to climb over .500 for the remainder of the campaign.

Van Gundy, 61, assumed the head coaching position two months after the team fired Alvin Gentry in August. The Pelicans had a 30-42 record under Gentry in 2019-20.

Van Gundy has 13 years of experience as a head coach, including three years in Miami, five in Orlando and four in Detroit. His most successful run came with the Magic, whom he led to a 259-135 mark from 2007-12 while guiding the team to the playoffs each season. The 2008-09 Magic advanced to the NBA Finals.

Overall, Van Gundy is 554-425 in his career with eight playoff appearances in his 13 seasons.

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