A Look at Jeff Van Gundy’s Potential Staff if Hired

Published: May 27, 2015

We are all so focused on the coaching search, and rightfully so, but once that is completed that head coach will have to put together his staff, and that will be equally important.¬†Jeff Van Gundy wants the Pelicans job, badly. I have reported as much since two days after Monty’s firing and recent conversations heard behind the scenes have been growing louder and louder. The question is whether he is Dell’s top guy. Part of Dell’s checklist for potential candidates includes the questions, “What kind of staff can you put together?”

According to a team source, Dell is looking to add more pace to the offense and some more spread principles, but he is also concerned about the defensive side of the ball, where the Pelicans finished 22nd last season. Many of the candidates have a strength on one side or the other, so that means they will have to balance out their staff with coaches who compliment their weaknesses. Van Gundy is an elite defensive coach, and has had some success on the offensive end, but has been out of coaching a while, so he might need some help on that side. The good thing for Van Gundy is that he is as familiar with today’s players and coaches as anybody, having worked for ESPN since leaving the Rockets.

The Van Gundy coaching tree is impressive, as Tom Thibodeau, Mike Malone, and Steve Clifford were all former assistants of his that eventually got head coaching jobs in the NBA. There are many branches off this tree that he can reach out to that can fill his staff, so let’s take a look at some of the names.

Mike Malone, ex-Kings Coach

This would be the dream pairing, as Malone has experience implementing both offenses and defenses, but it is hard to envision Malone taking the job. Not only would he be taking a step backwards by becoming an assistant coach, but he would also be stepping back by taking a job with Van Gundy and backwards towards New Orleans. On top of all of that, he would earn as much sitting on his couch next year just collecting checks from the Kings as he would putting in 60 hour weeks with he Pelicans.

Mike Longabardi, Phoenix Suns

If Van Gundy gets the job, I think Longabardi will be the first guy he calls. He was the guy getting a ton of credit for the Suns success last season, and he has connections to Van Gundy going back to Houston. In the past, JVG has said that he thinks Longabardi will eventually get a Head Coaching gig and “knock it out of the park.” Longabardi’s strength is more on the defensive side, but he has learned a lot from he Suns uptempo style these last few years, and can help Van Gundy implement that in New Orleans.

Andy Greer, Chicago Bulls

The Bulls coaching situation is a mess, but their assistant coaching staff is free to move around, and Van Gundy will likely go after Greer hard. Greer served with Van Gundy in both Houston and New York, and was actually given his first coaching job by Van Gundy’s father way back in 1983. He has been an NBA assistant for 14 years now, and while he leans defense as well, he ran some pretty creative stuff in his one chance as a Head Coach at Northern Illinois

Adrian Griffin, Chicago Bulls

Griffin is destined to be a hot coaching prospect in the next few years, and what better chance to shine than with a team that will have the top player in the league over the next few years? Griffin is the youngest guy on this list by quite a few years and if you want to find the guy most responsible for the ascension of Jimmy Butler, it is Griffin. Butler even singled out Griffin in his MIP acceptance speech, saying, “I think Griffin has a lot to do with who I am.” I’ll take some of that small forward development in New Orleans, please.

Tyronn Lue, Cleveland Cavaliers

This is a stretch, but Lue did play for Van Gundy, and maybe there is a chance that Lue is frustrated sitting behind Blatt in Cleveland. The chance to work with Van Gundy and run a system that is more to Lue’s liking could have some appeal, and move Lue one step closer to the head coaching job he seeks.

Dean Cooper, Idaho Stampede

Cooper has been everything from an assistant coach to a director of player development to a scout, and now a Head Coach in the D-League. He got his in Houston with Rudy Tomjanovich and stayed on with Van Gundy during his tenure in Houston> he moved on to Minnesota and worked with McHale, then to Portland. After a few seasons, he joined McHale’s staff in Houston, where he helped implement a lot of their space and pace principles. He has experience at every level, and connections to Van Gundy, so this would be a fantastic fit.

David Wesley, Fox New Orleans

How is this for out of the box? Wesley moves from the announce table to the coaches bench. Wesley played for Van Gundy in Houston and obviously knows this team as well as anybody. Wesley has gotten better as an announcer with time, but I would not be surprised if he wanted to move into coaching, and this would be an ideal fit for all involved.

Juwan Howard, Miami Heat

Howard has basically been a coach for the last few years in Miami, and he could bring a lot of the Heat’s spread principles to the Pelicans. Howard also played under Van Gundy in Houston, and has been said to be a terrific voice in the locker room. It would be a smooth transition for him, and he could also help AD’s development, both in the post and on the perimeter.

Countless Others

Honestly, this column can go on for days if we are looking for smart basketball minds with a connection to Van Gundy. From players like Tracy McGrady to Jon Barry that played with Van Gundy to guys like Jalen Rose who worked with him at ESPN, and assistants to guys he has influenced like Stephen Silas and Patrick Ewing, there are literally dozens of names Van Gundy can pull from. He is as connected as anybody in the NBA and his family has given tons of these guys their starts in the NBA, either directly or indirectly. He will have his choice of assistants, and in the end, that might make Van Gundy the most appealing hire for the New Orleans Pelicans.


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