Stan Van Gundy, Pelicans potentially facing rapid preparation for 2020-21
Whether you’re coaching in the NCAA’s Patriot League or the biggest professional basketball league in the world, a piece of advice Stan Van Gundy heard from former Fordham head coach Nick Macarchuk still resonates three-plus decades later. In fact, Macarchuk’s message from the late 1980s may never be more applicable to the NBA than it is right now, as the 30 teams brace for a potentially chaotic start to a season. Recent reports indicate that the league’s draft, free agency and the opening of training camp may all occur over a span of 1-2 weeks, setting up a rapid-fire beginning to 2020-21. Nine NBA teams with new head coaches already anticipated a relatively unique transition, given the circumstances of life in an ongoing pandemic, but a reported Dec. 22 opening night would add a significant extra layer.
“(Macarchuk) would say to our players all the time – and I’ve thought about this statement every day since I’ve taken this job, so for six straight days,” Van Gundy recalled, “ ‘We’re going to be ready to compete anytime, anywhere, under any conditions.’ I think in some ways this is a great way to get this message across to your players. When do you have to be ready to start camp? Well, whenever they tell us. So that means get ready now.”
Van Gundy was an assistant coach under Macarchuk at New York state schools Fordham and Canisius, where adversity might include things like lengthy bus ridese through snowstorms in mid-winter. One obstacle the Pelicans and all NBA teams are facing consists of incorporating draft picks without the benefit of summer league or a multi-month timeline to adjust and move to a new city. The NBA draft is scheduled for Nov. 18, which could put draftees in training camp a couple weeks later and in a regular season game before Christmas. Veteran free agents will have even less time to get acclimated.
“When I read the other day that we might even (start the season) a month earlier than expected, I was like, ‘Wow!’ ” Van Gundy said. “Of course coming into a new situation, you’d like to have more time. (But the importance of always being ready) carries over into the season. We’ve got a back-to-back, second night, no excuse. Anytime, anywhere, under any conditions, we’re going to be ready to compete. That may be a little bit quicker than I’m comfortable with, but that’s the way it is and we will be ready.”
“The idea of starting free agency at about the same time camp starts is really daunting,” Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin said of the compressed timeline. “To think about bringing (players) into training camp sort of on the fly as you add to your roster, I can’t even really conceive of what that looks like. And frankly from a coaching perspective, I can only imagine somebody that’s the kind of prepared that Coach Van Gundy is – I can’t imagine what it would do to their staff to not know on a day-to-day basis how many bodies you would have (to practice) and who those bodies would be. So it sets up to be a very daunting start of the season for everyone.”
Another item on the Pelicans’ and Van Gundy’s to-do list is to finalize the assistant coaching staff. When asked about that process, Van Gundy joked that if the news continues to head in its recent direction, those decisions may need to accelerate to warp speed.
“The way the NBA is going we may be starting training camp next Monday,” Van Gundy said, good-naturedly, “so I guess we should get a staff together sometime over the weekend.”