As far as coaches go, the Hawks could do a lot worse than Stan Van Gundy.
League-wide appreciation for Van Gundy is no secret. His candid demeanor endears him to reporters and most players, while his sturdy grasp of X’s and O’s helped make a deeply flawed Orlando Magic squad into a perennial Eastern Conference contender. With the Hawks expected to let go of coach Larry Drew, it makes sense that Van Gundy reportedly would be at the top of their list as Drew’s replacement.
There is just one detail of the Hawks’ interest that seems, well, weird.
“The Hawks plan to make a hard push for free-agent center Dwight Howard on July 1,” Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported Friday, “and there’s some belief that Van Gundy could actually turn out to be a benefit in recruiting Howard back to his hometown.”
Er, what? Howard initiated Van Gundy’s ouster from Orlando, culminating in an incredibly awkward interview during practice toward the end of both of their tenures with the Magic. That story has be written many times. That story, however, might not be true, because as in all things Howard related, nobody knows anything.
As Wojnarowski notes, Howard has said that be appreciates Van Gundy as a coach now that he has been subjected to the managerial flailing of Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni. But Howard has said a lot of stuff. Just ask the Magic. Howard said he was opting in for the 2012-13 season with Orlando out of loyalty, then rejoiced when he was traded to the Lakers. The guy says so many contradictory things, he should run for public office.
That said, the Hawks would do well to pursue Van Gundy to be their coach, regardless of whether it helps them land Howard. If there was ever a group in need of Van Gundy’s unique ability to take so many one-dimensional players and turn them into a winning team, it is these Hawks.
The Hawks have just three players of consequence — Al Horford, Lou Williams and Jeff Teague — under contract for next season. Another, unrestricted free agent Josh Smith, could re-sign. There are a lot worse foundations in the NBA than one built on a versatile low-post operator, a dangerous sixth man, a gradually improving young point guard and a supremely gifted swing-forward, respectively. Given those tools, Van Gundy could turn the Hawks into an interesting foil for the Heat in the Southeastern Division. Williams and free-agent-to-be Kyle Korver would have all sorts of fun in a Van Gundy system.
This season has proved that coaching matters in the NBA. The Bulls are giving LeBron James and the Heat all they can handle in the Eastern Conference semifinals without Derrick Rose, thanks to Tom Thibodeau. The star-laden Lakers never found the right general and therefore never found their identity. Indiana’s Frank Vogel and New York’s Mike Woodson are squaring off in one of the most underrated coaching matchups of the playoffs.
The Hawks could be right there with Van Gundy leading them, particularly in the East. Maybe having Van Gundy would help the Hawks sign Howard. Maybe it would hurt. The point is, nobody really knows, because Howard is Howard and nothing he says or does can be taken too seriously until the tickets are bought and the ink is dry.
If the Hawks sign Van Gundy in a gambit to lure Howard and fail, however, at least they still have Van Gundy. In the long run, that could end up being the more advantageous situation for the Hawks anyway.