Stan Van Gundy talks player minutes, criticism of resting guys

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Stan Van Gundy still is speaking his mind.

The former NBA coach and now employee of NBC Sports (doing some college color commentary, among other things) doesn’t get why so many coaches are getting fired, he still is tight with Dwight Howard, he doesn’t really think the media can impact a team (unless the team lets it), and he thinks about some of the bigger-picture issues in coaching.

Among those is the minutes players play, and the criticism coaches get for playing guys too much or too little. Speaking with Ethan Sherwood Strauss for TrueHoop Van Gundy went on a little rant about minutes and the perception of it.

The second thing that’s curious, could be in all sports is supposedly now, if we go back 30 or 40 years, maybe only 20. Supposedly now, our athletes are better, they’re bigger, stronger faster athletes.

We’ve got better training, OK. We’ve got better nutrition. We’ve got all this technology. Our travel is a lot better. They’re not traveling commercial. Everything is set up better, and yet, they’re not capable of playing the minutes or pitching the innings that guys did 30 or 40 years ago! I don’t get that. And it’s not like players are hurt less now than players in those years. Those guys used to play every day. They played 82 games, they played 40 minutes a game. Now, supposedly all these great improvements we made, our athletes aren’t capable of doing that….

One of the knocks when I was working for Pat Riley was, “Oh, his practices were so hard. You go to him, it’s going to shorten your career.” Then I look around and say, well, Patrick Ewing played a damn long time. Charles Oakley played a damn long time. And Derek Harper played in his 30s and played a long time. And Mo Cheeks. And it’s, “C’mon!” Where’s the evidence of this?

Van Gundy points to Gregg Popovich resting guys but having the knowledge that his team and players are going to make the playoffs — he has a luxury to do this that Rick Carlisle in Dallas or Rick Adelman in Minnesota may not.

I think one of the key things not discussed is the level of play and the smaller margin for error.

I’m not saying today’s players are better than the guys 30 years ago, but when the Lakers and Warriors (or Knicks and Sixers or whatever) played back then both teams were tired and if the shooting percentage dipped or the game slowed down a little it was just kind of accepted as part of it. Now, that drop off could and would be exploited by an opponent and leads to a loss. And if the guys are worn down come the playoffs it will show up fast.

So the reduced minutes is less about “can you make Kyrie Irving play 40 minutes a night?” and more “at what point does a fatigued Irving not play at the level he needs to for this team?” If he is tired at the end of the game and the other team’s star is fresh, who wins a close game? I’d be curious what Van Gundy would say about that argument.

But it’s situational and varies player to player, team to team. There are no rules here, which is why fans and media will always second guess coaches. Fair or not.