The New Orleans Pelicans announced on Wednesday that they parted ways with Stan Van Gundy. It’s time to look at Pelicans head coach candidates. The coaching rumors have already started with several other franchises making changes to their coaching staff.
New Orleans underwhelmed in 2020/21. Van Gundy’s appointment to bring some old school leadership to a young team did not work out. His deservedly held reputation as a defensive specialist did not come to fruition – New Orleans were one of the worst defensive teams in the league.
Pelicans head coach candidates
Where the Celtics and Blazers might fight over big-name available coaches, New Orleans’ search is likely to be different. This isn’t a win-right-now team. It’s still a project.
With that said, they shouldn’t be miles away. With some roster moves, the Pels can be a playoff team. The offense has been elite since Zion Williamson became the main ball handler. Brandon Ingram is an All-Star caliber player.
Early reporting from Adrian Wojnarowksi and many others has suggested the Pels will look at many of the same names as last year. Jason Kidd, Ime Udoka, Charles Lee and Jacque Vaughn were among the Pelicans coaching candidates when they hired Van Gundy.
Assistant Fred Vinson is also in the mix. Vinson has been at the organization for over a decade. Where new relationships would need to be built with an external hire, Vinson has already spent time developing the games of Williamson and Ingram.
Vinson is an intriguing candidate. For his lack of head coaching experience, the fact he’s being considered as a serious option shows how valued he is in the organization. At the same time, though, a new voice might be what this group needs. There is a lot of work to do to make this team into a homecourt contender in the Western Conference.
Teresa Weatherspoon, like Vinson, has worked with this roster. Weatherspoon has been named Summer League head coach, and many others suggested her as a Pelicans head coach candidate, but David Griffin cooled those rumors quickly on Wednesday.
Go veteran again
The Van Gundy hire didn’t work. That doesn’t mean the Pelicans should shun all veteran coaches, however.
Mike D’Antoni is getting linked with every job. D’Antoni doesn’t seem a great fit here, and it’s unclear if he’d be interested in taking over a non-contender.
Others are available, though, including former Blazers coach Terry Stotts.
Stotts developed a great relationship with his players. He built around stars, developing Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. There’s reason to believe he can increase the floor of the Pels, but there’s fair skepticism about how he would improve their defense. After all, Portland was a similar all-offense-no-defense team.
Stotts is a safe hire. Steve Clifford would fall into a similar category, though he’d arrive with a much better reputation as a defensive coach.
External assistant hire
If Griffin wants an external hire as Wojnarowski’s reporting suggests, he could look to any number of assistants around the league. Jason Kidd will get a lot of buzz to work with Lonzo Ball.
Ime Udoka, Jacque Vaughn and Charles Lee are highly regarded. Perhaps Chauncey Billups gets a chance.
A case can be made for each of them. Udoka, though, might just be the best of the bunch. He’s impressed as an assistant with San Antonio, Philadelphia and Brooklyn. Many around the league have been impressed by his work on the defensive end, which is unquestionably where the Pels need the most work.
It feels like Sam Cassell is due a shot, too. Cassell was popular as a player. That’s continued in his time as Doc Rivers’ assistant with the Clippers and Sixers. With three rings as a player, don’t overlook Cassell as a Pelicans head coach candidate.