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Jeff Van Gundy Emerging as Best Coaching Candidate for Anthony Davis' Pelicans

this is a discussion within the Pelicans Community Forum; Plenty of head coaching jobs have come and gone since Jeff Van Gundy last stalked a sideline in 2007, but none of them offered the chance to coach Anthony Davis. You can say coaching is in Van Gundy's blood, and ...

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Old 05-28-2015, 07:32 PM   #1
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Jeff Van Gundy Emerging as Best Coaching Candidate for Anthony Davis' Pelicans

Plenty of head coaching jobs have come and gone since Jeff Van Gundy last stalked a sideline in 2007, but none of them offered the chance to coach Anthony Davis.

You can say coaching is in Van Gundy's blood, and you can understand his desire to get back into the action after nearly a decade of describing it on television. But we all know the real reason he's responded to the New Orleans Pelicans' advances is a certain 6'10" superstar with limitless potential.

And we know it because Van Gundy told us so on The Dan Patrick Show, via Marc Stein of ESPN.com. "There is no one who ever coached that wouldn't want to coach a great player with great character," Van Gundy said. "Anybody who that says, nah, I wouldn't want to coach [Davis]—who is a top-five player and a great person—I wouldn't believe that if someone said that."

Van Gundy has always contended that talent trumps all in the coaching game, and Davis' talent is the ultimate trump card. Because of Davis, New Orleans can offer Van Gundy (and every other coach on the market) a team with the most important piece already in place: a bona fide, no-questions-asked superstar primed to dominate the league for a decade.

And nothing matters more when weighing the pros and cons of Van Gundy as the next Pelicans coach than how he'll help Davis, who was 14 years old when Van Gundy last worked.

Though Van Gundy may be the best overall candidate, we have to start with a point of concern.

Ideally, Davis' next coach would be creative enough to unlock the vast offensive potential in his game. Given the right system and development plan, it's easy to envision him as a legitimate stretch 5—capable of protecting the interior on one end and dragging rim protection out to the three-point line on the other.

Van Gundy's tenure doesn't suggest he's capable of that kind of offensive innovation, and we should expect some of the same safe, old-school post-ups and inside play that marked his offenses with the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets. Pace and space hadn't fully taken over the NBA when Van Gundy last coached in 2007, and it's fair to wonder if a guy who's been out of the game so long can get up to speed quickly enough.

Davis is so absurdly talented that there may not actually be a wrong way to use him. But stationing him on the block or high post might stunt some of his growth as a perimeter threat.

Another high-profile candidate who recently lost his job, Tom Thibodeau, shares many similarities with Van Gundy. Both cut their teeth as assistants with the Knicks in the 1990s, and both share a distinct defense-first philosophy.

And remember, Thibs was Van Gundy's assistant from 2003 to 2007 in Houston.

The Pelicans ranked 22nd in the league in defensive efficiency last year, per NBA.com, despite the rim-protection potential of Davis and Omer Asik.

Either Van Gundy or Thibs would have little trouble whipping up some stopping power.

But Van Gundy might bring all of Thibodeau's positives while minimizing the negatives, which is why he's a safer pick than the former Chicago Bulls head coach.

Thibodeau wore his players down with heavy minute demands and incessant, grueling practices. Van Gundy is no softy when it comes to details and preparation, but it's hard to imagine anyone taxing a roster like Thibodeau did in Chicago.

In fact, the mere threat of Thibodeau grinding Davis down with severe playing-time demands should give every New Orleans executive pause.

Thibodeau's reluctance to accept input from management also makes him a riskier pick than Van Gundy, who has made a post-basketball career out of being opinionated but never developed a reputation as a standoffish personality.

That's key, as Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported the Pelicans would like their next head coach to work well with others: "It is believed (general manager Dell Demps) is less inclined to want a strong-willed coach in the job, especially after so many internal battles with former coach Monty Williams. Demps was the driving force in pushing out Williams as coach, sources said."

The hope must be that Van Gundy's work as an analyst, which gave him a global view of league trends and the chance to talk with every coach in his broadcast preparation, has given him perspective on how the NBA has changed.

According to Wojnarowski, the Pelicans have already interviewed Van Gundy, and if they decide to hire him, it'll be a sign he's shown an understanding that rest matters, that stagnant offense gets you nowhere and that collaborative work between management and the coach is a necessity—three things Thibodeau's recent past suggests he hasn't embraced.

There are other options.

Alvin Gentry seems like the safest bet to take Davis where he needs to go offensively, as the current Golden State Warriors assistant went to school under Mike D'Antoni and had a hand in building both the Los Angeles Clippers and Warriors into offensive juggernauts.

New Orleans needs more help on defense, though, and that's where Van Gundy has been consistently remarkable, per data from Basketball-Reference.com:

Those offensive figures are scary, but a capable assistant could help the Pelicans' scoring attack, which ranked ninth in the league a year ago, stay where it's at.

Van Gundy is far from perfect. His long layoff and track record of substandard offense are cause for worry. But he'd bring at least as much defensive prowess as Thibodeau while theoretically leaving room for better coach-management relations and a more modern approach to offense.

A lot of this is guesswork at this stage, and some of Van Gundy's appeal is rooted in uncertainty. Because while New Orleans knows Thibodeau's limitations and knows it doesn't need the offensive help Gentry would provide, maybe there's hope that these past eight years gave Van Gundy time to consider and improve upon his shortcomings.

The stakes are high. And every year Davis doesn't reach his potential because of disappointing teammates or shaky coaching feels like a basketball crime. And as great as the privilege of coaching him may be, it also carries serious responsibility.

Van Gundy seems to understand the privilege-responsibility trade-off, and if the Pelicans are smart, they'll give him a chance to assume both.

Read more New Orleans Pelicans news on BleacherReport.com

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