Stan Van Gundy insists Zion Williamson, family wasn't behind Pelicans exit: 'Zion's no coach killer'

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Stan Van Gundy was fired by the New Orleans Pelicans last month after just one season with the team.

Though reports suggested there was a “growing unease” between Van Gundy and his players — including with star Zion Williamson’s family — the veteran coach insisted that wasn’t the case.

Williamson and his family, Van Gundy said on STUpodity on Friday, had nothing to do with his departure from New Orleans.

"I hate when it gets put on players, that players are getting coaches fired and things like that,” Van Gundy said. “I think that makes players look bad and I don't think that's fair. Players certainly have the right to express their opinion to people and things like that but front offices and owners make decisions and they’re the ones that decide to fire people. That should never, ever, ever be placed on players.

"I know this, regardless of what happened in that regard, Zion's no coach killer. He's a guy who is gonna help you win a lot of games. He plays the game the right way. One of the things I'll miss is the opportunity to continue to coach him. He's so unique in the way that he plays the game and the things that he can do, it really gets your mind spinning as a coach and you have a lot of possibilities in what you can do with him. That was fun to explore. I'm happy with what we did with Zion. I think we helped him. How anyone else felt about that would be up to them."

Was Zion’s family unhappy?

According to a report from The Athletic last month, “certain Williamson family members voiced displeasure” with the organization and Van Gundy.

The unnamed family members apparently felt Van Gundy was “too rigid and demanding as a head coach.”

Though Van Gundy said he knew Williamson was unhappy, he said it wasn’t because of his coaching style. As for his family members, however, Van Gundy has no idea where that came from.

"I don't know anything about that," Van Gundy said. "In my mind, I liked coaching Zion. I had a good relationship with him. I had no problem. I think we elevated his platform that we gave him. We put him in different situations, had him handling the ball a lot, playing a lot of point guard. I thought we did some good things with him.

"If they were unhappy, I didn't hear about it. Zion was unhappy with us not winning more games, but Zion never expressed to me any of that [about his family]. That doesn't mean he wasn't unhappy. It's possible that they were unhappy with me and that's what led to the change."

Van Gundy wants assistant Fred Vinson hired next

The Pelicans finished 31-41 in the regular season and just missed the play-in tournament while finishing near the bottom in both defensive rating and 3-point attempts in a game.

Their record was almost identical to what Alvin Gentry led the team to during the prior season prior.

The team is now looking for its third coach in as many years, one that will be tasked with leading the team to the postseason for just the second time in the past seven seasons.

As for who should do that, Van Gundy thinks longtime assistant Fred Vinson is the perfect man for the job. Vinson has been an assistant in New Orleans since 2010 for three different coaches, and could make things easier for Williamson and the rest of the young roster.

“If it were me I’d stay in house and go with Fred Vinson, because I worry about these young guys will now be on their third coach in three years … I think it’s hard for anybody if the system and everything, the terminology and all that is changing a lot, but especially for young guys,” he said. “If you stick with a guy like Fred Vinson, he's been here even before Alvin Gentry.

"But he was with Alvin, so he knows what the players went through then. He was with me, he knows what the players went through then. He doesn't have to redo everything, he can stay with some stuff that is familiar to guys to ease the transition while at the same time putting his own imprint on the team."

Head coach Stan Van Gundy of the New Orleans Pelicans
Stan Van Gundy was fired by the Pelicans after just one season. (Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

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