Wednesday’s NBA: Pelicans fire Stan Van Gundy; Chris Paul in COVID-19 protocols

Detroit News
Associated Press

New Orleans — Stan Van Gundy is out as Pelicans coach following just one season at the helm, a person familiar with the situation said.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Wednesday because the move has not been publicly announced.

Hired last October, about two months before the start of a pandemic-delayed and shortened season, Van Gundy coached a Pelicans squad led by All-Star Zion Williamson to a 31-41 record. New Orleans finished in 11th place, a few games out of the final Western Conference play-in spot.

The move means Pelicans basketball operations chief David Griffin will be hiring his second coach in as many season after firing Alvin Gentry last summer.

The next coach will be Williamson’s third since he entered the NBA as the league’s first overall draft choice in 2019.

Griffin had articulated higher hopes for Van Gundy when he hired him, at age 61 to oversee a roster in which most players were younger than 25.

“This is a proven winner and this is a coach that can win right now,” Griffin said after Van Gundy’s hiring. “More importantly to us, it is a coach that is a teacher and a very sincere, authentic human being who is going to build long-lasting relationships with our team.”

Van Gundy spent parts of 12 seasons coaching Miami, Orlando and Detroit, winning 58% of his games and going to the playoffs eight times.

“Because we look at this team as just now scratching the surface of what we hope is a long, sustainable run, coach Van Gundy was obviously the selection for us,” Griffin said. “In addition to giving us the best chance to win in the short term, we feel he gives us the best chance to build a sustainable winner in the long term.”

But star players such as forward Brandon Ingram offered only tepid reviews of Van Gundy’s coaching style.

“It’s OK,” Ingram said after the season ended. “This is our first year together. He has a different coaching style that I’m used to seeing from most.”

Paul out indefinitely

Phoenix guard Chris Paul has entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols and it is unclear whether he’ll be available for the start of the Western Conference finals next week, a person with knowledge of the situation said.

The Suns are not certain exactly how long Paul will have to be away from the team, the person said, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither the player nor the team have publicly released anything. It is unclear whether Paul has been vaccinated.

The earliest the West finals would begin is Sunday. It depends on how long the other West semifinal series between Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers lasts; if the Jazz-Clippers matchup ends Friday, then Game 1 between the winner of that series and the Suns will be Sunday afternoon.

Otherwise, the likely start date for Game 1 of the West series is Tuesday.

The protocols are the league’s playbook for handling all matters related to the coronavirus this season. There have been examples of players missing multiple weeks following positive COVID-19 tests; there have also been examples of players missing very short amounts of time for matters such as contact tracing investigations.

In March, the league also relaxed some of the protocols that were put into place last fall, doing so in response to players and coaches choosing to receive the vaccine that protects against the coronavirus.

But the league also cautioned at that time that “if an individual has symptoms consistent with COVID-19, the previous protocols apply” — which would still mean that anyone with those symptoms “may be subject to quarantine” regardless of their vaccination status.

Leonard’s knee issue

All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard has a right knee sprain that will keep him out of the Los Angeles Clippers’ lineup for Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night and raises questions about his availability going forward.

The Clippers said Wednesday that there is “no timetable for his return.” Game 5 is Wednesday in Salt Lake City; Game 6 of the series is Friday in Los Angeles.

It is a massive blow for the Clippers, who have split the first four games of their series with the top-seeded Jazz and are trying to reach the West finals for the first time in franchise history. Leonard is a two-time NBA Finals MVP, and is averaging 30.4 points on 57% shooting in the playoffs.

The Clippers were 11-9 without Leonard during the regular season. They’re 6-1 so far in the playoffs when he scores at least 28 points, 0-4 otherwise.

Leonard’s injury appeared to occur with about 5:20 left in Game 4 of the series against Utah on Monday night, when he was fouled on a drive by Utah’s Bojan Bogdanovic. Leonard was dribbling into the lane when he was bumped, and his right knee appeared to buckle slightly. He grimaced in some discomfort, missed the two free throws that were awarded following the foul, but remained in the game for 45 more seconds.

He checked out with 4:35 remaining and did not return; the Clippers led by 16 points when he checked out and the lead remained in double figures the rest of the way.

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