After my two esteemed colleagues discussed the potential of Mike Kryzamalamadingdong and Tom Thibodeau, now comes my chance to look at a guy who could also very realistically be manning the sidelines for our New Jersey Nets next season: Sir Jeff Van Gundy. JVG, who spends most of his time these days having Super Soaker Wars in Mark Jackson’s backyard (Mike Breen is not invited), spends his nights doing color commentary for TNT. While he seems perfectly content with his job, the lure of coaching remains over his head, and there are a few reasons why he might return to the sidelines.
First, I think we can all be sure that he hasn’t slept with Gloria James. So that’s one point in his favor.
Yes, Nets fans. In case we forgot, our favorite sad-puppy lookalike is actually a pretty good coach. While he hasn’t taken the helm of an NBA team in three years, Van Gundy has been on the NBA sidelines as an assistant coach, head coach, and commentator for literally as long as I’ve been alive. Seriously. JVG accepted the position of Knicks assistant on July 28, 1989. I was born the next day. Along with his assistant chops, JVG boasts a decade of NBA coaching experience. As a head coach, JVG led the Knicks to the playoffs six times in the 90s and 00s, including that wild lockout season when they made it to the Finals against the Spurs. (Side note: I attended game one of that series back when I was a pre-pubescent Knicks fan. I attest to this day that I was the loudest fan in the place, and the people within ten rows of me both ways would agree, too.) He’s known as a solid x’s and o’s guy, is well-known and respected throughout the league, and has a solid ability to communicate with players.
Unlike Coach K, he’s shown that he has a style that can succeed at the NBA level. Unlike Thibodeau, he’s shown he can take the lead reins of an NBA team and sustain his success. Unlike high-profile candidates such as Phil Jackson or John Calipari, he’s accessible and won’t demand the universe. He also spends a fair amount of time in this clip complimenting the Nets. While he doesn’t explicitly say anything about looking for a coaching job, he says he has a lot of respect for Prokhorov, calls Rod Thorn “as good as it gets” and that “any coach that’s interested in coaching would be interested in that job.” If JVG is interested in coaching – and I think he is – he’s someone we will have to take a look at.
Ideally, I don’t think JVG is the top choice for the job, but if the lottery proved anything, it’s that we don’t live in an ideal world. It’s clear that JVG is not a sexy pick. While that sounds bad, I do think it’s actually a point in his favor; the season will then be about the players, and not about the coach. He can get his job done and make sure that any FA we get, Brook Lopez, Devin Harris, and (sigh) our #3 pick are the stars of the show. I do have faith in his ability to lead a team, however; he’s done it before, and with the right crew I’m confident he can do it again.