Stan Van Gundy is out as the coach of the New Orleans Pelicans after only one season with the franchise, the team announced Wednesday.
Van Gundy and Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin had been engaged in talks for weeks, according to sources.
New Orleans finished a disappointing 31-41 this past season and fell short of making the play-in tournament in the Western Conference.
"On behalf of Mrs. Gayle Benson and the Pelicans organization, I would like to thank Stan for the integrity and professionalism that he demonstrated during his time in New Orleans, as well as the commitment and work ethic he brought to our team," Griffin said in a statement. "This was a difficult decision as I have tremendous respect for Stan both personally and professionally, but we agreed it is in the best interest of our team to move forward in a different direction. We wish Stan, Kim and their family all the best in the future."
In talking with reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Griffin said he and Van Gundy "agonized" over making the decision.
Griffin added that he spoke with Van Gundy immediately after the season but that they also took time before coming back and getting to this decision.
"This decision was not wrought out of our previous results. ... This was wrought in our philosophical difference in how we're going to reach the next step in our development," Griffin said.
The Pelicans are expected to circle back among some candidates from a year ago to replace Van Gundy, including assistants Jacque Vaughn and Ime Udoka (Brooklyn), Charles Lee (Milwaukee) and Jason Kidd (Lakers), sources told ESPN.
Pelicans assistant Fred Vinson will get serious consideration for the job, sources said. Since 2010, Vinson has worked under Monty Williams, Alvin Gentry and Van Gundy, building a strong body of work within the organization.
During exit interviews on May 17, the day after the regular season ended, Van Gundy told reporters it was a tough year because of how the season played out amid COVID-19 protocols around the league.
"It was a hard year personally, because when I took the job, we didn't know when training camp was going to start or any of that stuff," Van Gundy said. "I had not really given a ton of thought to condensed training camp, condensed season, COVID protocols. That stuff was really, really difficult from a personal standpoint. For me, to go into Detroit and have my kids nearby, and I can't see them. That kind of stuff. Having to limit people being able to come and visit us and things like that. On a personal level, it was difficult.
"But on a basketball level, I thought this was a great situation basketball-wise, and it's better than what I thought it was. I wasn't happy with the results. I wasn't happy with myself on some things basketball-wise. But as far as looking at the job as a whole, it's even better than I expected, and I expected it to be good."
Van Gundy and the Pelicans had an up-and-down season culminating in another missed playoff trip for New Orleans. New Orleans had been hopeful that Van Gundy would establish a defensive presence, but the results were far from that. The Pelicans finished 23rd in defensive rating (113.3) and 25th in opponent 3-point percentage (38.0).
The Pelicans did improve from 29th in defensive rating (116.3) before the All-Star break to seventh (110.4) after, but the team's offensive rating went the opposite way. The Pelicans were sixth (115.6) before the break and 21st after (110.4).
New Orleans lacked consistency throughout the season. When things finally looked to be heading in the right direction, injuries to Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Zion Williamson derailed the team once again. The Pelicans also struggled in close games this season, going 3-10 in games decided by three points or fewer. They also lost a league-high 14 games when holding a double-digit lead.
"We were a very young, developing basketball team. While we have players with incredible talent, we don't have the winning mettle yet," Griffin told reporters on May 17.
"We know that to some degree. We know this is a process and it takes time. But we also have to take a look at ourselves, front office, coaching, players. Is what we are doing working? Are we doing enough for the group to create winning? That's what our focus is going to be."
New Orleans started 4-2, but things quickly went south. The Pelicans lost eight of their next nine games and never climbed back to .500 for the rest of the season. Their 31-41 finish was just a one-game improvement from their 30-42 record in the shortened 2019-20 campaign, after which the team dismissed coach Alvin Gentry.
Van Gundy joins Nate Bjorkgren as coaches who've parted ways with their teams after being hired before the season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it's the fifth time in the past 30 seasons that multiple teams have changed coaches who were with the franchise for just one season.
New Orleans was Van Gundy's fourth stop as an NBA head coach and his first since sitting out the previous two seasons. Van Gundy had success at his first two stops in Miami (.605 winning percentage) and Orlando (.657). He guided the Heat to an Eastern Conference finals appearance in 2004-05 and a Finals appearance with the Magic in the 2008-09 season.
However, Van Gundy had just one winning season in four years with the Detroit Pistons from 2014 to 2018. Van Gundy, 61, has a career record of 554-425 (.566).
With Scott Brooks also out with the Washington Wizards on Wednesday, there are now six head-coaching openings in the NBA: Boston, Indiana, New Orleans, Orlando, Portland and Washington. Nate McMillan is currently the interim coach in Atlanta, but the expectation is that he will be rewarded with a new contract after the playoffs.