For the first time since 2013, the Sixers are searching for a new head coach.
With the team deciding to move on from Brett Brown, we’re continuing our series analyzing potential candidates to replace Brown with Stan Van Gundy. Tyronn Lue, Ime Udoka, Jason Kidd, Nate McMillan and Dave Joerger are among the candidates we've looked at so far.
Van Gundy is currently a TNT and NBA TV analyst. He's also very active on Twitter, weighing in frequently on social and political issues.
Let's examine the case for and against Van Gundy as Sixers head coach:
The case for Van Gundy
Van Gundy has coached 907 NBA regular-season games, won 50-plus games in a season five times and made the NBA Finals with the 2008-09 Magic. That’s a strong resume, the kind that’s difficult to build without Xs and Os savvy. Van Gundy is demanding, forthright and basketball-obsessed, too.
“A little crazy. Hard-nosed. A little intense,” Reggie Jackson told USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt in 2016. “He wants perfection all the time. He probably lives in a bit of an unreal world, but it leads to the success that he’s had. He’s always striving to be great, to be perfect. I haven’t met anybody who studies film as much as him. He has the Xs and Os accounted for.”
His Orlando teams were consistently at or near the top of the league in three-pointers attempted as shooters like Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu complemented Dwight Howard in the post. Howard’s skill set and personality are obviously not identical to Joel Embiid’s, but perhaps that experience with a dominant big man in Howard would serve Van Gundy well.
His tenure in Orlando ended in 2012, about a month and a half after an awkward media session in which Van Gundy told reporters that Howard wanted him gone, then was later joined by a smiling Howard. In a 2019 interview with Graham Bensinger, Howard said he felt Van Gundy had “lost the ear of the team,” but that the focus of his conversation with Magic front office members was his own desire to leave, not Van Gundy.
Van Gundy’s first NBA head coaching gig was in Miami, where he led Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade and the Heat to 59 wins in the 2004-05 season before falling in the Eastern Conference Finals. He resigned 21 games into the following campaign with Pat Riley hovering and itching to return as head coach, but regardless, Van Gundy had plenty of success during his stints with the Heat and Magic.
For the Sixers, Van Gundy’s relationship with Tobias Harris from their time together with the Pistons might be appealing. In addition to the mutual respect factor, it’s a positive that Van Gundy would, based on what we know, often remind Harris to attack and let three-pointers fly.
“Stan Van Gundy came to me and said, ‘I need you to shoot more threes instead of slashing, and I need you to shoot like six to seven a game,’” Harris said last February soon after being traded to the Sixers. “He said, 'You have to be willing go 6 for 7, 4 for 7, but you also have to be willing to go 0 for 7 and not second-guess any shot.’"
The case against Van Gundy
Van Gundy served as both head coach and president of basketball operations with the Pistons. He ended Detroit's six-year postseason drought in 2015-16 but never won a playoff game with the team or helped it rise above mediocrity. Since the Pistons fired him, Van Gundy has been out of coaching.
Ultimately, Van Gundy hasn’t won a playoff series in a decade. That doesn’t mean he’s no longer capable of being a good coach, but it’s worth acknowledging and takes some of the shine off his potential candidacy. His best years came in a different era, which weakens the notion that he could take over the Sixers and immediately restore the team to contention.
Also of note is that Van Gundy was vehemently anti-tanking, calling the Sixers’ strategy under general manager Sam Hinkie “embarrassing” in 2014. That comment has no bearing on Van Gundy’s head coaching skills, but it's probably something he’d be reminded about if he ended up replacing Brown.