Time heals all wounds. For me, anyway.
I saw Stan Van Gundy today for the first time since that day in early June, when a six-hour stakeout with News10's sports crew of Bryan May and Ryan Yamamoto ended with the almost-Kings coach blowing me off in the lobby of the Embassy Suites. No hard feelings. In fact, I was reminded why - at least on surface impressions and limited dealings - he can be such a likable guy.
As for the Kings? I'm thinking Stan the Man didn't get any Christmas cards from the Petries or the Maloofs after the way they were used en route to him getting the Orlando job. Maybe next year, though, as Van Gundy was at least honest enough to admit he could've handled the situation better in expressing his public regrets
And in the name of giving Van Gundy the microphone in full since he was good enough to discuss the matter with me, here's another part of his explanation that was fit to print but wouldn't fit in print.
On why he waited until his Magic contract was signed and faxed back to the Magic to tell Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie about that situation:
"My concern was I didn’t want to give Geoff and the front office here the impression that I didn’t want to come here. Then I could see the Orlando thing falling through because of not getting a release from Miami and then having the people here saying, ‘Boy it doesn’t sound like he wants to be here.’ That’s why I chose not to tell them until the thing was done. Just because I made that decision doesn’t mean that I necessarily feel great about everyting. In my mind, I guess I handled it the way I thought was the best, maybe the only way to handle it, but I still didn’t feel great about it."
Van Gundy repeated what the Kings had said at the time, that the considerable amount of time and money they'd spent courting him in the coaching search process warranted more honesty than they were given:
"I spent a lot of time with (Petrie) in the process. I met with him and (vice president of basketball operations) Wayne (Cooper) for three hours (in Sacramento), had a long interview with Geoff and Wayne and the Maloofs (in Las Vegas), had the plane ride back out here (from Florida on the day he took the Orlando job). Even in Vegas, we watched the (Cleveland) Cavs win the Eastern Conference (championship) that night, so I spent a lot of time with them, liked them and respected them and the whole thing. If it was a one-time, one-hour interview I might have felt differently. I like them a lot, respect them a great deal. I can’t say that it’s one of the happiest chapters in my life, the way I handled that."
I asked Stan about the fact that he doesn't employ an agent. There were plenty around the league who thought having an agent - as most coaches do - may have helped the situation, as Van Gundy was left doing a lot of the dirty work agents get paid to do. The Kinko's chapter alone, in which he and his wife were faxing a contract rather than house hunting like the Kings thought, was a PR disaster the likes of which could have been solved by having representation:
"I’ve never had an agent. I don’t know that it would’ve changed much. I think I’ll always handle it like that. I don’t want to be able to lay it off on the agent. If people here are unhappy with the way I handled it, I understand it, and I couldn’t even argue with them, but that’s my responsibility. I don’t want to be one of those guys who can say, ‘Oh, that’s my agent.’ That’s BS. I’m the one who made the decisions. I made the job decision, made the decision on how to handle it, and I’ll take the blame for it."
As an interesting subplot, I was told that Van Gundy's wife, Kim, spoke to Miami team president and coach Pat Riley and had much to do with his compromising of the compensation demands. And while Van Gundy said that wasn't the case, he said she had a significant indirect influence on the situation. And to be fair in closing, this wasn't a Billy Donovan repeat. Van Gundy never signed anything, never - that I know of - made any sort of verbal promise to take the job. There were insinuations and assumptions and plenty of withheld information, to be sure, but there are plenty of people who are of the opinion that this was a classic case of, 'It's business, not personal.'
Certainly, though, Van Gundy didn't make any friends through this little saga. Even before coming to Sacramento, he had turned down an offer from Indiana (after house-hunting there, too) and proceeded to upset some folks within the Pacers organization by going public with the fact that he was offered and thereby relegating future coach Jim O'Brien to second-choice status. It was the same situation in Sacramento, although Kings coach Reggie Theus clearly could care less about being Plan B. Theus said he's thanked Van Gundy and Donovan for the parts they played in his being hired by the Kings.
"I don’t remember where I was, but I did thank (Van Gundy) for taking the job," Theus said. "I sent a message through (Louisville) coach (Rick) Pitino (to Donovan). I always said that in a crazy way, this job was created for me in a sense. It didn’t look like it was going to be my job."
Theus was asked if it bothered him knowing the Kings had opted for someone else first.
"I was OK with it, because I knew I had done everything I could do and that it was actually up to Geoff and the Maloofs to say ‘This is what Reggie brings to the table and this is what this guy brings to the table and this is the way we’re going to go.’" Theus said. "It was comfortable (for the Kings to choose Van Gundy) because the guy had been coaching, with Stan having that experience. I knew that the other parts of who I am as a personality would be good for this situation. I know how the fans are, know how it’s the only game in town, knew it was something that would work just in terms of my personality." - Sam Amick