The Washington Wizards are trying to strengthen their coaching staff. One name that they are reportedly interested in adding to head coach Wes Unseld Jr’s staff is Jeff Van Gundy.
According to the reporting by Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, there is mutual interest between the Washington Wizards and Jeff Van Gundy. Van Gundy, who was recently let go by ESPN after working as a broadcast analyst for over 15 years, is reportedly trying to return to coaching. He has had talks with Boston and Dallas already but the Wizards seem like the frontrunners to land him as an assistant coach.
This would be a fascinating hiring by Washington. Van Gundy last coached in the NBA in 2007 when he was with the Houston Rockets. He undoubtedly had a successful tenure as a head coach with the New York Knicks between 1996 and 2001, and the Rockets between 2003 and 2007, but the NBA is a different league now.
Van Gundy was still one of the more basketball-focused analysts on the broadcasts compared to his fellow commentators. Yet, his old-school approach to basketball and curmudgeonly personality was apparent during his ESPN stint. Therefore, his fit with a young Wizards team and a young head coach in Unseld Jr may be questionable.
Even during his time with the Knicks or the Rockets, Van Gundy was not a development-focused coach. That’s not necessarily his fault since those teams were veteran-laden teams trying to contend. The Knicks had Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston, and Larry Johnson, while the Rockets were surrounding their star duo Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming with experienced players to chase playoff success.
The Washington Wizards are in a different stage of the process. They will have one of the youngest teams in the NBA and are projected to have no players over 30 in their rotation. How 61-year-old Van Gundy will mesh with the young players on the team is an interesting question.
On the other hand, Van Gundy’s experience can be useful as a basketball mind who has seen it all. He is a popular figure with national name recognition, it could be helpful to make the Wizards more relevant for next season.
He could be a good mentor for Unseld Jr as well, but that is a tricky balance to maintain. If things go poorly for the Wizards, there will certainly be rumors about Van Gundy potentially replacing Unseld Jr. So, this hire comes with risks associated.
It is still unclear what additions the Wizards will make to their coaching staff. However, it is apparent that coach Unseld Jr can use any help he can get as he struggled to get satisfactory results or internal development in his first two years as the Wizards’ head coach. Let’s hope he turns it around this summer after bolstering his staff.