Interim coach Jacque Vaughn faces the imposing task of coaching a Nets team depleted by injury and illness and trying to keep them in the playoff picture when the NBA season resumes near the end of July in Orlando.
General manager Sean Marks has said it’s unfair to evaluate Vaughn on wins and losses in the current climate, so, determining whether he keeps the job on a full-time basis might come down to his relationship with superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Marks recently said the organization values Vaughn’s character after spending the past four seasons in the organization, and when asked on Saturday in a video conference with reporters what it will take to keep the job, that’s what Vaughn hung his hat on.
“I’m going to be me, and I think that’s the best thing,” Vaughn said. “Just be yourself, do simple better. I’m not going to over-complicate this thing. My relationship with guys on this roster must have some foundation, some standing. My approach is the same every day. I try to be as consistent as possible.
“Anxiety can be extremely contagious, but so can calm. So, my relationship with guys, I will lean on that. Nothing for me to prove. I have grown as a coach, love the challenge of coaching, and want the challenge of coaching going forward here. Going to be me, and I think that’s the best thing.”
Vaughn had a poor 58-158 record in his previous NBA head-coaching stint with a rebuilding Orlando Magic team. But he was 2-0 after taking over the Nets following the departureof Kenny Atkinson, and as Irving’s position coach, the former NBA point guard clearly has his respect.
Marks has praised the job Vaughn did during the NBA stoppage in terms of staying in contact with players and managing the group. Vaughn gave everyone a book titled “Chop Wood, Carry Water,” the story of a youthful samurai archer who learns the importance of doing the basics every day in order to excel.
Neither Durant nor Irving will be in Orlando because both are recovering from injuries, but in the end, Vaughn’s relationship with them will be vital. Describing his interaction with them, Vaughn said, “My conversations with those guys generally are based around me checking in to see how they’re doing. Some of those conversations lead into basketball. Some of those conversations lead into life conversations.
“It’s more of the connection knowing that I am thinking about them … I believe in voice and choice, so, if you don’t have a relationship with guys, you can’t ask for that. I think the relationship is growing, which is great . . . I spent individual time with those two, spent time with them together. So, it is an ongoing relationship that I look forward to.”
It was clear Atkinson's relationship with Durant and Irving had deteriorated. If they were on his side, he obviously would not have been let go. Some have questioned whether the inmates are running the asylum, but drawing on his experience as a player, Vaughn said it’s normal for major stars to have input with their coaches.
“I’ve seen them along my career,” Vaughn said. “Whether it was John Stockton and Karl Malone with Jerry Sloan [with the Jazz], whether it was Jason Kidd with Lawrence Frank [with the Nets], whether it was Tracy McGrady and Doc Rivers [with the Magic], whether it was Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich [with the Spurs].
“It belongs in our league, and I think it’s welcomed. The climate these days of being able to give guys autonomy, a sense of belonging, a sense of competence . . . is welcomed for me as a coach. I’m completely comfortable with that conversation and want that conversation.”