NBA Q&A: Jeff Van Gundy

Posted by Unknown on Wednesday, June 05, 2013 with No comments

Q. What would you look at as Miami's greatest matchup concern in this series, and also, could you see Duncan and Splitter giving them the type of problems that West and Hibbert did?
A. "Well, I think, you know, Tony Parker's pick¿and¿roll game is obviously as good as any point guard's pick¿and¿roll game in the NBA.  So it's not an individual matchup. But the way that San Antonio plays, where Parker has such great offensive energy, he'll hit you not with just one pick¿and¿roll.  But it will be a pick¿and¿roll and he'll make a pass; if they don't have anything, they will go into a dribble hand off; if they don't get anything off that, right into another pick¿and¿roll for Parker.
"So you have to defend multiple actions almost every trip down the court, and Parker to me has such great offensive stamina and offensive energy that from a team standpoint, I think that will be the toughest cover that they have.
"I think San Antonio has great roster flexibility.  I think it's really a well put together roster.  They can play, you know, really big, and then they can down size and play a shooting four as well as to really stretch the floor without getting too small when they put Bonner in.  I think Boris Diaw is somewhat in between a big guy and a shooter.  He's not a great shooter but he is a great passer.  So I think their front line flexibility is absolutely terrific and a great advantage against most teams."
Q.  As you travel around to games, how have you seen fans view the Heat evolve over these last three seasons?  Do you feel it's changed some over these years?
A.  "I do. I think in general, the Heat in that first year were loved in Miami and for the most part, outside of Miami, were looked upon negatively.  Only because, you know, nothing I think that happened on the court; I think it was all the off¿the¿court build¿up and how they put their team together.
"But once they lost the championship, and some were happy that they did; I think when they won the Championship the next year, and we saw them I thought handle themselves and the negative attention so well for two years, I thought that they became, like most champions, really respected.
"That Game 6 win in Boston, I think people really ¿¿ they are down 3¿2, to go into Boston, to have LeBron James play such a dominant game and win that, after coming back in the previous series down 2¿1 to Indiana and Dwyane and James played so spectacularly; and then in the Finals, down one game to nothing and went four straight against a great Oklahoma City team.  I think those three straight comebacks really were respected by most basketball fans, and I think that changed the dynamic on how Miami was viewed.
"And then going into this year, being the defending champion, winning 27 in a row; again, I think all that negativity from the average fan is way in the past."
Q. The idea of great men make great organizations; you worked for Pat Riley, obviously seen what Gregg Popovich has done.  Is this a testament to the owners putting the right people in charge and how much difference that makes for an organization?
A. "Well, every great ownership or every great team has great leadership and that starts with great ownership.  You look at the two owners, Peter Holt and Micky Arison, I don't think you could have two better owners in the Finals; humble, not seeking the limelight for the success of their organization, and then the two men in charge in Pat Riley and Gregg Popovich, tremendous; and then the people that those great leaders hire in Erik Spoelstra and R.C. Buford, and then the people those people hire.  So you have people that stand for something, they stand for putting great people around them.
"Obviously talent is important, but talent without basketball character will not put you in a position to sustain your excellence, and that's exactly what both of these teams have done:  Sustained excellence because they have the right pieces in place.
Q.  What is your level of understanding of Dwyane Wade's injured knee, how hurt is he in your mind?  And two, could you contrast the two coaches in these Finals, and are they alike or different, and if you were filling in one of those boxes that if you were evaluating a team forward, backcourt, center, would you check Popovich's box as the one that San Antonio has the advantage because of his experience?
A: "To Wade and Miami's credit, they are not talking about whatever health issues he may be having.  Now, the media are trying to give him the excuse on a nightly basis, but he's not biting, and I have great respect for that.  And I truly have no idea if he's fine or if he's a little bit unhealthy or a lot unhealthy.  I have no idea.
"I know this, though:  San Antonio is not overlooking him.  He played a dominant effort game last night.  The six offensive rebounds, the cuts to the rim; I think he's figured out how to be successful even when he didn't feel totally comfortable offensively.
"As far as who gets the checked box with coaches, I've always laughed at that a little bit, because so much of who gets the checked box and who has been around longer; listen, most coaches are great.  Popovich obviously has had the opportunity to do it for longer.
"But if you give Spoelstra 17 years with LeBron James, which may be a little hard, because I think James will be in his mid¿40s; but if you did that with a great player with great character, he would also have that long period of success.
"So one thing do I know:  It's easier to talk about how they are similar versus how they are dissimilar.  They are both going to the Hall of Fame.  They both have tremendous respect from the coaches they coach against, and they both have a level of humility that I believe shows NBA coaching in the most positive light possible."
Q.  Do you think that players such as LeBron and Duncan, how do they view their own legacies and how do you view their legacies?
A: "Well, I think the really good ones don't start skipping steps and start thinking of how they are going to be viewed till long after they call it a career.
"So I think, you know, they are just locked into the present moment that it is very hard to do what they have done, and one of the reasons they have been able to do what they have done is because they have stayed in the present moment.
"I think from my viewpoint of them, I mean, they are going to go down as two of the greatest to ever play.  Duncan's longevity has been incredible.  His ability to come in as a power forward and then evolve into this center, you know, I think is a testament to just his willingness to adapt and change to the changes in the NBA game and their roster and how they play the game offensively.
"I think that, you know, what you're always looking for in the great players is not only how great they were individually, how much team success they had, but also how they handled themselves under the everyday scrutiny and I think both guys have done a remarkable job with that."
Q.  Do you see this playing out as a physical battle or San Antonio, if they are going to win, they have to be physical like Indiana was?
A: "Well, I just don't think too many teams play big anymore, so they can't really be physical, and the NBA rules really don't allow it as much.  But I think the beauty of San Antonio's roster construction is that they can play big with Splitter and Duncan, or they can downsize, make more four¿out, one¿in type of action, with Matt Bonner and Diaw.  So I think that flexibility gives them the ability to adapt to whatever the game situation calls for.
"The hardest thing in the NBA is to find, you know, the best player that you can build around or best players, and in San Antonio's case, it's Duncan, Parker and to a lesser extent now, Ginobili.  And then it's as important ¿¿ and this is where San Antonio has thrived:  It's surrounding them with the pieces that specific roles that you need to win, and they have done a remarkable job.  R.C. Buford and his staff, to me, have done a remarkable job in picking the right guys to go around the best players."
Q.  Popovich and LeBron have expressed a lot of respect for each other over the years.  I was just curious, as a coach, the level LeBron is at right now, is there anything that a coach can design over a period of, say, a week or ten days, that Popovich has had to make somebody more uncomfortable for somebody who is playing at a level that LeBron is playing?
A: "Well, I think you go back to your base defense and your habits, and I think the only thing that ever makes a star uncomfortable is the individual match¿ups.
"If you have a guy that has the belief, the instincts, the basketball IQ, the mental toughness it's going it take to withstand the assault that he'll bring, the length; so all those characteristics, you have a guy like that that wants the challenge.  And if you have a guy like that or a couple guys like that, then you can do a couple things.  Not anything he hasn't seen but to try take away what he does the very best, you can try to do that.
"But it starts with who do you have to matchup and who wants to be locked into that head¿to¿head battle.  And then the scheme is almost secondary.
"But the thing about San Antonio is they have good habits defensively.  I love Kawhi Leonard.  He is like the human mute button:  He doesn't say a lot, but his game talks very loudly.  He's improved dramatically offensively.  He's always been ¿¿ he came into the league an aggressive defender, and so I think they have a matchup that gives them a chance.
"Now, you're not obviously stopping LeBron James, but you want to try to at least make him work for it, reduce his efficiency somewhat.  You know, similar to Chicago; I think he shot like 43 percent against Chicago.  Most people would go home and celebrate that if they shot 43 percent against a great Chicago defense, but that's the small reduction in efficiency that you're looking for against a great player to try to swing the pendulum your way in any one game.
Q.  I wanted to ask you about Chris Andersen.  Can you describe the value of the X¿factorness of the Birdman?
A: "Do I have to call him 'Birdman'?  All right, I'm going to stay with Andersen.
"Well, listen, he plays really hard and with great energy, and he does it every night.  And energy and effort is an NBA skill.  Consistent energy and effort is hard to find in big guys, and then the added skill that he has is, he can catch and finish.  He has good hands.  He finishes at the rim.
"And he has some things he doesn't do as well obviously.  He doesn't play huge minutes, but his minutes that he does play are impactful, and it was a big, big acquisition when they got him, and it was ¿¿ everybody saw it as a gamble when they did it, and it's turned into a stroke of genius."
Q.  My question is just about maybe the perception of Pop ¿¿ I remember when Pop got some brush back for naming himself the coach when it was going bad in '95 or '96, whatever it was and the perception of Spoelstra when he started was just a Riley puppet and LeBron sort of landed in his lap a couple years later.  Do either of these guys get the appreciation level that you might think they deserve?
A: "Well, I think Pop does.  But I think that whole notion that, you know, well, if you add Tim Duncan ¿¿ name me a coach in any sport who didn't have a great player attached to their name.  I mean, of course.  But the quality that I admire so much about both guys is that they are able to get the most out of that great talent.
"And I think because Pop has done it for so very long, I think he does get the credit he deserves.  I mean, this is one of the great coaches to ever coach a team sport.  The longevity, the creativity, the ever¿evolving change in their roster and also who is the best and featured player on their roster; I think their ball movement sets a great standard for NBA teams to try to achieve.
"And most importantly, I love the class that they demonstrate when they play.  I love how they handle winning.  I love how they handle losing, and I think that starts from the very top with ownership and obviously Pop.
"Erik to me has never gotten in his short time, the credit that he deserves, particularly those first two years that he took over.  He's taken over in a pretty down period in Miami Heat basketball, and with Haslem and Wade, Wade obviously being his best player, but the cornerstone of Haslem, that they were able to win as much as they did the first two years showed his true greatness in coaching.
"And then how he's done these last three years, now being in the Finals three consecutive years, and actually delivering more than ever could have been expected with James; and to reach three consecutive Finals is an incredible feat.
"And Erik is still in the phase where he gets more blame for their losses than credit for their wins, but he's going to the Hall of Fame.  He's that good.  His even¿keel demeanor, his humility, I think helps him really get the most out of his best players and you know, it's fun to watch his teams, fun to watch Pop's teams.  I just love the grace and humility both teams play with."
Q.  As a very quick follow, when you watch the Heat now, do you still see the effect that Stan had ¿¿ which Spo speaks of often?
A: "Well, Spo doesn't eat the same food Stan does, so that's good.  He doesn't eat Oreos by the package.  He still seems like he's relatively together.
"No, I think ¿¿ I don't know how that has manifested itself, but I know that Stan really appreciates Eric's friendship.  And always, even when Eric was in the video room way back, he used to rave to me about the greatness that this guy had in him.
 "Watching from afar, Stan was absolutely correct.  Pat Riley, when he could have gone out and hired other coaches, I think also knew what he had in Eric Spoelstra and it has proven to be another great decision by Pat Riley. "
Q.  How much do you buy into the speculation that we could be seeing the end to this Miami Heat team with LeBron possibly going to Cleveland ¿¿ how much do you buy into the speculation?
A: "None.  None. The rumors that surround pro sports are ¿¿ I wish somebody kept a percentage of how many were actually right.  I always wonder who 'the sources close' to the Heat are, because the Heat and the San Antonio Spurs are very, very quiet organizations.  They don't talk to a lot of outside people and reveal their innermost thoughts.
"So I always have a sense of distrust for sources say and rumors and innuendo because I don't see them as usually coming true."