"It's gotten twisted around since I was the one left standing," says Van Gundy, who now says he was wrong about the Oakley trade. "Dave has told me that Ernie was coming to him 20 games into the year, weekly, trying to fire me. He was unhappy with my performance; I wasn't necessarily unhappy with his. I don't have any power to fire him. He wanted to fire me, but you know what? I got along with him." (Grunfeld declined to comment for this story.)
When, later that summer, Checketts was choosing between Knicks acting G.M. Ed Tapscott and Utah Jazz vice president of basketball operations Layden to replace Grunfeld, Van Gundy didn't hide the fact that his preference was Layden—the former assistant, the son of a coach. Tapscott now works for Grunfeld as a Bucks consultant. "Yeah, I want to control everything that goes into winning or losing," Van Gundy says. "I want to have a say, and I'm going to fight for what I think is right for our team."
Look at him: Hollowed-out eyes, skin the color of parchment—and training camp is still weeks away. Forget all the coaches with their mousse and high-fashion. Look at Van Gundy. On his face is evidence of all the lousy food, sleepless nights, bad news, clashing egos and injuries that every coach endures. On his face is written the job's dirty secret. Winning doesn't help.
"Losing has an unbelievably negative impact on me," Van Gundy says. "I read somewhere that failure is an event, not a person, but I never feel that way. It's who I am."
Pity him. He has never been happier.