Do you know that David Wire show?
No, not The Wire.
Yea. Oh, um that show set in New Orleans right? That what you’re asking about?
Feel that weird feeling, somewhere between a letdown and missing out? That’s the Stan Van Gundy career-ending and the last season for the New Orleans Pelicans.
The show is called Treme and you should check it out. Stan Van Gundy will now have the time to binge it after being far more Sonny than June Yamagishi in his audition with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Much like the Pelicans, the Soul Apostles needed a lead guitarist. Someone to provide dynamic structure around Antoine Baptist’s (Wendell Pierce) magnetic vocals that brought goosebumps like seeing a Williamson dunk live. Like Baptist, Zion can be the show, but the team needed that call-and-response that sonic synergy between the vocals and guitar that propel the team/band to new heights. Van Gundy had some good ideas, but the execution was lacking the proper rhythm to keep this band together.
MMH Pour One Out End of The Season Obituary: There was no Love and Happiness at the end of the season between Van Gundy and the rest of the locker room.
Acting domineering even with the slightest things, which sometimes interfered or disrupted with the players’ routines, is a dead-in-the-water approach in today’s NBA. That excitement at the end of the Yamagishi solo might as well as be Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and Lonzo Ball in the locker room after the news of Van Gundy’s parting broke.
The Pelicans have had seasons die slow deaths ever since drafting Zion Williamson. The NBA Bubble was tailor-made to keep New Orleans and Williamson in contention. Conspiracy theorists will claim the 10 team Playoff-Play In scenario was crafted for the same reason. That’s simply not the case. Recouping lost money and creating incentives that kept more teams playing out the season instead of sleepwalking through it spawned the Play-In and the soon to come In-Season Cup tournament that mimics soccer leagues. The Pelicans failed to meet the bare minimum requirements in both scenarios.
New Orleans cannot afford to miss the playoffs again. Well, Gayle Benson can. And her banter with the Seattle mayor should quell any nonsense about moving the team. We are not crossing that Rubicon. David Griffin, however, is facing a stretch of decisions that will define his career.
Everything points to pouring one out on Eric Bledsoe’s career in New Orleans now that it’s being reported Griffin wanted Van Gundy to play Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis Jr. more minutes for developmental purposes.
Point Zion was a success, so Van Gundy succeeded in moving that project forward, but he leaves with Lonzo Ball still far too limited attacking the paint. Griffin said Van Gundy and he had philosophical differences concerning roster construction. Leaving Ball’s future more up in the air than ever, though Williamson and Ingram are adamant they want him to stay in New Orleans.
As far as the rest of the roster is concerned, Josh Hart has a fresh start in New Orleans if he ever wanted one in the first place. That initial report out of Cleveland has yet to be confirmed. Jaxson Hayes is a keeper; he can already stretch the floor with more threes attempted than Ben Simmons. Alexander-Walker averaged 20 per game as a starter. Naji Marshall was a pirate ship-style treasure hunt discovery down the bayou while rotating end of the bench two-way contracts to avoid the luxury tax. Steven Adams and Hernangomez both provided value consistent with their contracts but New Orleans no longer has the luxury of shopping on the clearance aisles consisting of G-League functionaries and European replacement-level players.
New Orleans has a trove of draft picks and moveable contracts. Jaxson Hayes is an attractive, young talent and is locked down for under $10M/year for the next three seasons. The same can be said for NAW and Kira Lewis at $7M and $5M respectfully. And then of course the real secret sauce in the Bayou is the Pelicans vault of draft picks. Let’s remember that the Pelicans have Lakers 2023 and 2024 first-round picks, the Bucks 2024-2027 first-round picks, and more second-rounders than I can name. Offering Bledsoe, Steven Adams, and even Ball in a sign-and-trade could net the Pelicans another All-Star level starter (or two!). So there are certainly a myriad of ways for Griffin to right the ship. Only time will tell if he does.
This piece serves as an obituary for the season but also Stan Van Gundy’s coaching career. Since leading the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009, his coaching career has gone the way of the Star Wars film franchise––sideways. Van Gundy failed to lead the Magic back to the finals over the next three seasons. He then hit a reboot replete with President of Basketball Operations powers in Detriot only to peak with a 44-win season ending in a 4-game playoff sweep. When you add this past 31-41 season in New Orleans, which came with real expectations, it is hard to imagine SVG receiving another HC offer.
Without at least a few playoff games in the Smoothie King Center next season, that could be the signal to start spinning out the words announcing Griffin is gone for good.
That’s the worst-case scenario. Griffin’s next 18 months will determine his future. It will either be an unsuccessful send-off to his career or catapult him into a contract extension as the New Orleans Pelicans push for the NBA Finals. Either way, everything will be done to keep Williamson in town well past the expiration date of his rookie contract.
More of Dodson’s NBA Season Obituary series: