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Van Gundy the Great


Stan Van Gundy won his 200th regular season game with the Magic in Wednesday’s victory over the Pacers. Stan Van Gundy, like with every personal achievement that does not involve winning an NBA title, is not one to toot his own horn or point out these special achievements.

But it feels like high time to take a moment and pause to appreciate some of the things Stan Van Gundy has done in a Magic uniform … or turtle neck.

Van Gundy became the second coach in team history to reach the 200-win plateau and is 67 games behind the immortal Brian Hill for the team’s top spot. He is averaging a team-best 56.7 wins per season and appears to be on pace for his fourth consecutive 50-win season. Van Gundy is the only coach in Magic history to have won more than 60 percent of his games and is one of four coaches (Hill, Chuck Daly and Doc Rivers being the others) to win more than 50 percent of their games at the helm for the Magic.

The Magic have never had this type of sustained success in its franchise history. They have also never had this type of talent either. But putting that talent together in the right way has been because of the master strokes from the bench Van Gundy has done.

As Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post points out in the link above, no one expected this team to work when Van Gundy took over. It is difficult to remember that when the Magic signed Rashard Lewis as the star free agent in his first season, very few people thought the Magic would make the playoffs. Who actually thought that would work? That was back when you could really say Lewis was overpaid.

But that first season Orlando took the league by storm winning 52 games and winning the first of three consecutive Southeast Division titles. He turned mediocre at best defensive players into one of the best defensive teams in the league. Sure Dwight Howard helped a ton, but no one foresaw the group Van Gundy had turning into this solid of a team. No one.

It seems that every time the Magic do get eliminated from the playoffs, Van Gundy’s shortcomings get pointed out more than his successes. There are plenty of people out there who believe he cannot get this team over the top. They point out his misstep in the NBA Finals in playing Jameer Nelson after he missed the final 34 games of the season and the entire postseason to that point. They point out the struggles he had getting over the top of Boston despite having home court advantage or the team’s over-reliance on 3-pointers.

This is the time to appreciate what Van Gundy has done. We can get back to nitpicking later.

Van Gundy has turned Orlando into one of the premier teams in the NBA. We did not even think title for 11 years. Van Gundy got us to that point. He used his players to maximize their talents.

Look at Hedo Turkoglu. Before Van Gundy came aboard, I remember Turkoglu being rated in Bill Simmons’ trade value column (hardly a scientific measurement) as having one of the worst contracts in the league. When Van Gundy got there he had one of the best. When he left Orlando, he never found a fit in Toronto and Phoenix. Now, despite having similar stats, every one can agree he is playing much much better.

This year will likely test Van Gundy more than he has ever been tested. The team is changing horses in the middle of the season and Van Gundy will have to adjust both his offensive and defensive tactics to fit his new roster — all while trying to win games and get in the best playoff positioning.

But in the annals of Magic history, it is pretty clear Van Gundy is the best coach in the team’s history. And it is worth taking a moment to appreciate what the man has done for this franchise in the last 200 regular-season wins.