Due to the pandemic-truncated offseason, during which NBA facilities were largely off-limits to players before the start of training camp, the nine head coaches new to their respective teams are all in a race to figure out how their coaching styles and philosophies mesh with the players on their roster, and to determine optimal player rotations.
Pelicans first-year coach Stan Van Gundy was hired less than two months before the Pelicans first preseason game earlier this week.
Never mind that he’s taking over a roster that is loaded with young players and has been entirely overhauled since New Orleans hired David Griffin as executive vice president of basketball operations in 2019.
So when Van Gundy was asked whether he expected to have a clear vision for individual players’ roles and minutes during the preseason, he didn’t hesitate to say he did not even expect to know that when New Orleans’ regular season slate opens on Dec. 23.
“I’m not sure I’ll be there on Jan. 15 either. It’s going to take some time,” Van Gundy continued. “I want these guys in a mindset of competing and having to produce for minutes.”
While coaches with overhauled rosters face similar challenges trying to navigate a compressed timeline that is loaded with uncertainty, it’s even more difficult for Van Gundy and the eight other NBA teams with new coaches this season.
“We’re trying not to skip steps, be that relationally with players, be that understanding who these players are and what their strengths are,” said newly hired Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault. “You can’t press fast-forward on some of this stuff. We’re just going to be diligent and do the best we can and follow our process and not allow anything external or outside of our control impact how we approach this.”
Nate Bjorkgren brings with him to Indiana a few years of prior NBA experience. He was the Phoenix Suns assistant from 2015-17 and the Toronto Raptors assistant from 2018-20.
Bjorkgren inherits a team that overcame major injuries each of the past two season to reach the playoffs – and then make quick first-round exits. He can build around two All-Stars, Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, one of the league’s top rim protectors, Myles Turner, a rising star in Malcolm Brogdon and high-scoring forward T.J. Warren.
Winning games hasn’t been the issue. Winning in the postseason has. And the Pacers are betting big that a new attitude, new style and new approach will put them back in the championship hunt.