If Zion Williamson winds up a Knick, Stan Van Gundy will have to see it to believe it.
In a candid interview about the Knicks’ 2021-22 downfall, the former Pelicans coach said he’s always skeptical regarding hype surrounding stars “angling” to play for the Knicks.
“It’s always a plan that all these free agents want to come there,” Van Gundy told The Post. “And their fans think everybody wants to come to New York to play. But what is the example of that to use — the high-profile free agents who have come there? A lot of New Yorkers think everyone has New York at the top of their list and the Knicks are picking and choosing. That’s not the way it’s been working the last 20-plus years.”
Van Gundy, who will be in town to call Game 4 of the Nets-Celtics series Monday for TNT, recalls the comments made after the Pelicans’ Garden loss last season to the Knicks. Lighting up like Broadway neon, Williamson touted MSG as his favorite arena of his. But SVG feels people shouldn’t read too much into it.
“I don’t know a player who didn’t like going to the Garden,” said Van Gundy, a Rochester native and Brockport graduate. “I never understood the allure of it myself. But the players think it’s a big deal to play [there], from everyone I coached. That doesn’t mean they want to play for the Knicks or live there.
“But everybody thinks this guy loves playing at the Garden: ‘Oh, s–t, he’s going to want to play for the Knicks.’ I don’t know if that holds up. Even if you want to go to New York, is the Knicks where you want to go to?”
With Williamson out for the season, the Pelicans netted the 10th seed, won two games in the play-in tournament to nail the final spot in the playoffs, then upset the Suns in Game 2. They trailed 2-1 entering Sunday’s Game 4.
Rumors Williamson will want out of the Big Easy could wane with the Pelicans providing they have an array of attractive pieces. On the flip side, Pelicans GM David Griffin might want less injury-prone players in a package for the former 300-pounder.
“They made a lot of moves (since I left),” Van Gundy said. “Would they deal Zion based on the success they’re having without him? Yeah, they’d be open to that but they’re not giving him away.
“Can Zion go there (to the Knicks)? Yeah, definitely could. But what are you giving them back? You’re going to give them a lot. You’re not giving them (Knicks center) Mitchell Robinson and a first-round round pick for Zion. Of course you like that trade. It’s never going to happen.”
Van Gundy sees a likelier match with Dallas’ unrestricted free agent point guard Jalen Brunson, though the recent hoopla surrounding Rick Brunson’s are might be too much.
“Jalen Brunson is a really, really good player and would be a fit anywhere,” Van Gundy said. “He’s very unselfish, high character guy, everything you want in your organization. But looking at him as a franchise player, though, that’s not him.
“He’s really, really good. Is he potentially an All-Star? hmm. I don’t know. That would be I think a bit of a stretch to think he’ll be an All-Star. So it depends on what people’s expectations are. If people’s expectations are, ‘We can get a really good player in Brunson?’ And it is. But if people are thinking, ‘We’re getting Brunson as a franchise guy?’ Do not.”
No surprise Van Gundy, whose brother Jeff is Tom Thibodeau’s closest ally, was disappointed many Knicks fans blamed Thibodeau for their fall from 41-31 to 37-45. Thibodeau won Coach of the Year last season.
“He probably forgot everything he knew about coaching this year,” Van Gundy said. “He’s won COY a couple of times. He’s a helluva coach, one of the best in the business. For a lot of reasons, this year was totally out of his control.
“He’ll second-guess himself after the year and make some adjustments but if New York fans think coaching was the problem, they don’t have any idea what’s going on.”
According to SVG, Julius Randle “coming back to the pack” after an “outlier” season in 2020-21 and Derrick Rose’s injury were the two biggest factors.
“They overachieved last year based on the talent and the East got better,” Van Gundy added. “Write the names of their guys one to nine. I don’t care if you’re the biggest Knicks fan in the world. You can’t think that talent matches up with the better teams in the East.”