In Part 3, Stan Van Gundy discusses how his Orlando Magic teams were constructed and how the defensive rule changes of the 2000s impacted the NBA.
So your Magic teams adopted a distinct, spread-floor strategy. How did you come by it?
The plan -- not just my plan but [GM] Otis Smith's plan -- was that, when you have Dwight Howard, he's the centerpiece of your team. What you always want to do is take your best players and figure out how to complement them and the best way to help a big guy like that is to get him room on the floor. And you do that by putting as much shooting out there as possible.
When we looked at guys -- I mean they drafted [J.J.] Redick -- shooting was always a priority. And then what happened in that first year the same summer that I came here. Then we got Rashard [Lewis] and [Hedo Turkoglu] who are both 3-men, but clearly among their top four players [at their position], along with Jameer [Nelson], so they obviously were going to have to play together.
So one of them had to become a 4-man. Rashard was just a better fit at the 4. Look, if Tony Battie had not gotten hurt that year, there's a good chance that we would have played big at least half the game and not been quite as much four-out. With the roster we had, it was just an absolute necessity that we played the way we did. And I thought the shooting around Dwight really helped. The thought was always trying to put guys around Dwight that complemented him.
Is concocting NBA strategy actually fun? Coaches are so famously miserable.
I really enjoyed that part of the job. Sitting around with your staff, and kicking around ideas and looking at different things and trying to find the best way to make it work for your team. I find that to be one of the most enjoyable parts of the job, to think about those things and really, really try to make it fit and make it all work.
What aspect of what you did strategically were you most proud of?
There's a fairly small group of guys who are just going to be successful wherever they go and in whatever system they're in. I mean, they're just so talented or so versatile or whatever it is that, wherever you put them, they're really going to be successful. But I think a great majority of the league and probably some guys that are in and out of the league, it really comes down to getting in a place where you fit what's going on. So my first year here, we had Keith Bogans and Mo Evans splitting time as the starting 2. And they were both really successful. Courtney Lee started as a rookie the next year on a team that goes to the NBA Finals.
If you want them to do things that aren't really going to fit their strengths, then they're not going to be as good. And I think that's why some teams don't like a guy because he doesn't really fit what they're trying to do. And then he goes somewhere else and plays well and people’s first reaction is, "Team A made a bad trade in giving the guy up!"
Well, maybe not. He didn't really fit what they were doing. I think that fit is so important for, I don't know what percentage, 80 percent of the players in the league.
Did the rule changes in the early 2000s change the league a lot?
Coaches are going to adapt to whatever the rules are. The rules certainly change strategy. Even within that, even since that happened, things continue to evolve. People are always trying to find a different way.
One of the big ones that's changed a lot, even more than the illegal defense rules, is what you're able to do with your hands out on the perimeter guarding people. Your team defense became a lot better because it's becomes a lot harder individually to guard guys.
I remember when we had Dan Majerle when I was an assistant in Miami, and Dan, at that part of his career anyway, wasn't the quickest guy in the world but he could certainly move his feet. He was a real, real tough guy, and very committed. But with his strength, and under the rules at the time where you could put a forearm on the guy, Dan could really reroute guys and things like that. And that rule changed. To me, that probably changed NBA defenses.
Look, I mean, I've only been in the league 18 years. I mean, you can go back and talk to guys who were in it a long time ago. But the time I've been in [the forearm rule] changed NBA defense and NBA defensive strategy more than the illegal defense guidelines.
Do the rules have something to do with why centers are less involved offensively?
They've certainly become a lesser part of NBA offense. Now, the reason. I think there's multiple reasons. Most kids growing up don't want to play in there. It's not a lot of fun. There’s a lot of contact. You’re not handling the ball. You’re not getting to shoot it with range. That’s number one. The other reason, there’s just not enough people feeding into the NBA who are low-post players who want to do that work.
It’s always been a defended position. A guard can just sort of get the ball and get himself a shot. A center needs his teammates to bring the ball down into him.
Passing as a skill really hasn't gotten much better. A lot of coaches actually think it's gotten worse, and so that makes it harder to get guys the ball. Certainly the defensive rules have allowed us to do things that we previously couldn't do to make it harder on post people.
I mean, you can front the post and bring another guy over behind him. You could never do that kind of stuff before. Certainly the rules have contributed to that. And I also think, you combine the rules with now, how are you still going to be able to get the ball inside because you don't have a rule that artificially gets your post guy some room? That’s also led to putting more shooting on the floor, and teams playing smaller, because the only way now to prevent teams from doing those kinds of things is to put enough shooting on the floor to get those guys space.