The Wizards find themselves entering this off season without a head coach under contract. After firing Coach Flip Saunders, the Wizards finished the regular season under the tenure of coach Randy Wittman. While Wittman's achievements with the team can be viewed in a mostly positive light, this off season represents a chance for the Wizards to make an aggressive move to hire a a coach with a new voice. Whether the Wizards take that opportunity or stick with Wittman remains to be seen, but in the meantime, we'll evaluate several other coaching possibilities. First up: Stan Van Gundy
Stan Van Gundy
Career Record: 579-371
Why he is available: The details coming out of Orlando this spring have read like a plot out of Shakespeare, or possibly a very special episode of Days of Our Lives. Van Gundy feuded throughout the season with his star player Dwight Howard to the point where Van Gundy let it slip during a press conference that Howard had asked for Van Gundy to be terminated. This led to the surreal scene of Howard walking into the press conference completely unaware of Van Gundy's comments and putting his arm around the coach in a display of solidarity. Van Gundy quickly exited the press conference and left Howard to be bushwhacked by the media wolves.
A few weeks later, it was reported that Howard again reiterated his demand that Van Gundy be terminated to the team's owner and conversation was leaked to the media. Howard then immediately shut down his season with a back injury, leaving Van Gundy to piece together a competitive team without the player for whom the roster was constructed around. Throughout the process, Van Gundy remained at an even keel and managed to get Orlando to the playoffs, where they were quickly dispatched by the Indiana Pacers. As of this writing Van Gundy still remains in the employ of the Magic, but one wonders how long that last.
It should be noted that if Van Gundy is terminated, it will not be the first time he has been pushed out of town by a dominant center. Shaquille O'Neal was behind the ouster of Van Gundy in Miami, which both Van Gundy and O'Neal have never let us forget. It leads one to question whether the demanding style of Van Gundy has a shelf life or whether he is better suited to a team of up and comers rather than a team of veterans who chafe at Van Gundy's abrasive style.
Why would he want to come here: At first glance, Washington does not appear to be the ideal destination for Van Gundy, as he is used to coaching playoff ready teams rather than working with rebuilding projects. However, since the trade for Nene, Washington has become a much more attractive destination for free-agent coaches. The Wizards have a franchise player in place already with point guard John Wall, and Van Gundy has never gotten to coach a dominant PG with the exception of the two years that Jameer Nelson appeared to be an above-average player. Van Gundy would also be able to avoid the headache of working with Prima Donna big men, as both Nene and Kevin Seraphin have the reputation as extremely coachable and heady players.
The issue is whether Van Gundy would view the Wizards as a piece or two away from contention or a team that destined to tread water behind Miami and Atlanta in the Southeast Division. Van Gundy might want to try his luck in another conference or take his talents to the broadcasting booth, where he can trade barbs with his brother Jeff or the mumbling O'Neal.
Why would it work: Van Gundy preaches accountability and defense, two things that have been missing on the Wizards for the last few years. Van Gundy's team's have consistently ranked in the upper echelon of defensive teams with the added defense that they don't foul that much. Much of that can be attributed to the abilities of Dwight Howard, but credit should be given to Van Gundy for turning sub-optimal defensive players such as JJ Reddick into average defenders and developing players such as Ryan Anderson and Hedo Turkoglu. He also has been able to make chicken salad out of chicken s*** his entire career by successfully turning GM Otis Smith's most boneheaded acquisitions into semi-passable working parts. If anyone is going to find out what is left in Rashard Lewis' tank or uncover the talent of Andray Blatche, I wouldn't bet against Van Gundy.
Why wouldn't it work: Roster construction would appear to be the most the serious impediment to a Van Gundy-led Wizards as he Orlando teams have always relied heavily on three-point shooting. Outside shooting, of course, is the one thing the Wizards are most desperately in need of at the moment. Van Gundy also has a reputation for being tough on young players who do not commit defensively, and one has to wonder how well that will go over with Wall and others who sometimes slack on defense. Finally, there is the issue of how much control and input Van Gundy would be given in roster construction and player acquisition, as I would personally find it hard to believe that he would not demand some greater degree of control after having been axed in Miami and subverted in Orlando. Whether Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld would be willing to give up some of that control would be an interesting situation should it develop further.
Final Verdict: The Wizards would be a foolish organization if they did not at least do their due diligence and explore signing Van Gundy if he becomes available. Since they are not foolish, I assume they will at least be mentioned in the conversation once he officially becomes a coaching free agent. If the Wizards landed Van Gundy, it would constitute a huge splash and an indication to the fanbase that the team considers themselves not that far removed from the playoff picture. A Van Gundy-coached team becomes an immediate destination for FAs, as most of his players love him as a coach (with two notable exceptions) and he earned respect around the league. Unlike Flip Saunders, Stan Van Gundy has never "lost the locker room," as almost every other player he's coached has spoken glowingly of him.
I would pursue Van Gundy aggressively, but first ensure that his vision of what the Wizards will be meshes with that of the GM and the owner. Further, I would accept the fact that obtaining Van Gundy's services are a long shot at best, with teams such as the Clippers and Knicks being more attractive locations, and have a list of qualified candidates ready in case of rejection.