HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Months removed from his most recent coaching stint in the NBA, Stan Van Gundy‘s words still resonate.
The colorful former coach of both the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat didn’t hold anything back when discussing his life, the NBA, politics, Lance Armstrong, his future and plenty more with Jon Saraceno of USA Today. And because he’s no longer bound by his employer to watch his tongue, you better believe he let it all out.
Van Gundy answered questions the same way he coached his teams, without a hint of reservation and as brutally honest as possible. Best players he’s ever coached? Dwyane Wade followed by Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal (with the qualifier that O’Neal was in the latter stages of his stellar career).
Is politics in his future? He’s never going to run at the top of a ticket for anything. And who is to blame for him not joining his brother Jeff Van Gundy on ABC/ESPN broadcasts in some capacity? NBA Commissioner David Stern.
The most overrated player in the NBA? Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin (“He’s not a guy who should be third in the [All-Star] voting.”) followed closely by Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams (“I never thought Deron Williams was overrated but right now people still look at him as one of the top two or three point guards in the league. He hasn’t been that in recent seasons.”) And the most underrated? Nets guard Joe Johnson is Van Gundy’s most “underappreciated.”
If Van Gundy has designs on rejoining the NBA coaching fraternty, he’ll have to be ready to answer a few more questions about some of his answers with at least several teams. He didn’t hold back on a number of topics, and that includes the league’s topic du jour (the train wreck that the Los Angeles Lakers have become):
Q: Biggest surprise this season?
A: Like everybody, probably the way the Lakers have struggled. There are probably pretty easy explanations for it. I’m not totally (surprised), but if you had asked me early in the year, I thought they would win the West.
I never could have predicted they would have screwed up the coaching situation — fire a guy (Mike Brown) five games into the season and be on three coaches 11 games into the year. Or have predicted their injuries. That’s as screwed-up a team as I’ve seen in a long time.
Q: What about team chemistry?
A: I still think that would’ve worked out. Training camp now is a total waste. Bill Walsh in his book (Finding the Winning Edge) said that you have to stay true to your process. You don’t circumvent the process. The Lakers screwed up the process. They haven’t given it a chance to work.
Gregg Popovich says you can’t skip steps. They skipped. (Coach) Mike D’Antoni is coming in on the fly and doesn’t have time to build chemistry and respect in the locker room. I feel badly for Mike because he’s a great guy and a great coach. The situation is impossible.
At the end of the day, there are a lot of guys who are qualified to coach. But the key thing is you all have to be on the same page. I sometimes marvel how organizations sometimes shoot themselves in the foot.
Q: Was Phil Jackson the solution?
A: I think Phil would have run into the same problems. Kobe (Bryant) and Pau (Gasol) are really the only guys left (from his tenure). It all would have been new — he would’ve gone through the same chemistry problems. I mean, I think they should have stuck with (Brown).
There are some firings where, even if you (personally) disagree with them, you see where (management) is coming from. (But) five games in? If you weren’t committed to Mike Brown, you shouldn’t have brought him back. With two new high-profile players, he needed time to put this together.
Q: But was Brown the right guy for the Lakers?
A: I think he was . . . he could have been. They really didn’t have the people to play that way. The hired Mike D’Antoni and they’re (supposedly) going to bring back Showtime. Showtime? Are you kidding me? Those (older players) aren’t going to be Showtime. They weren’t really Showtime when Phil was there, quite honestly. They executed in the half-court and used their size.
D’Antoni is a great coach but they have to have the right pieces. It all has to fit — what management wants, the type of players and the coach. It’s not an easy thing. For all the success they’ve had, I just think this year that they’ve looked pretty foolish as an organization.
The truth according to Stan Van Gundy is a lot of things, but it’s never boring.