Jacque Vaughn became the Brooklyn Nets interim head coach just two games before the NBA season was paused. Vaughn and the Nets picked up tight wins against the Bulls and Lakers in those games. Then, suddenly, the NBA was shut down. Now, he’s gearing up for one of the most unique interim coaching auditions we will ever see.
The Brooklyn Nets and Head Coach Kenny Atkinson have mutually agreed to part ways. Jacque Vaughn will serve as head coach for the remainder of the season.
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) March 7, 2020
When Jacque Vaughn took the reigns as the Nets head coach for the remainder of the season, things were less than ideal. Which, to be fair, is generally the case for interim coaches. Still, missing both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving from day one on the job was an immediate obstacle. Additionally, the playoff race was heating up and the Nets couldn’t afford to go through a rough stretch.
Little did any of us know at the time, things were about to get much more difficult.
Jacque Vaughn’s First Head Coaching Job Didn’t go Well
An important note in the story of this audition is why it could be so valuable. Vaughn has been an NBA head coach already in his career. He spent two full seasons as the Orlando Magic’s head coach. Then, 52 games into his third season he was relieved of his duties.
At the end of his time in Orlando, Vaughn had a 58-158 (.269%) record on his resume. That is, obviously, not going to cut it in the NBA.
The thing is, it was never going to go great early in his career regarding wins and losses. After a long NBA career, Jacque Vaughn spent just two years working as an assistant head coach. Yes, that time (like his final three years as a player) was spent working with the great Gregg Popovich, but two years as an assistant?
He never got the time to truly learn his craft in Orlando. He did get a lot out of young players who have gone on to become very good players, though. That list includes Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic, and Victor Oladipo, among others.
His player development is an exciting prospect, but getting wins is going to help him the most.
The Nets Roster for the Orlando Bubble is not the Roster They had This Season
Kevin Durant was never going to play this season, but the list of players the Nets won’t have doesn’t stop with him. Kyrie Irving, the other superstar on the Nets, will not be with the team either. Neither will the emerging Spencer Dinwiddie, who has stepped up all throughout the season in Kyrie’s absences.
Jacque Vaughn said #Nets first unit was@same today — Chiozza,
Kurucs and Allen.
— Greg Logan (@GregLogan1) July 12, 2020
That’s five rotation pieces, four of which were big contributors, that won’t be with the team (in addition to Durant).
How They’re Replacing Those Guys
Walking buckets Michael Beasley and Jamal Crawford have been added to the team. While they can score, there is a reason neither one of them has played a game in the NBA this season. Tyler Johnson, who played 31 games this season for the Phoenix Suns, rounds out the veteran signings.
Another potential addition has been reported, but not confirmed as of yet. That’s Lance Thomas, who would be the 3rd recent Nets addition who is preparing to make his season debut in Orlando.
Jamal Crawford may be getting his well-deserved walk-off moment with the Nets, so that’s a positive in all of this.
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) July 9, 2020
Further, Brooklyn added Donta Hall from the G-League. Hall, a 22-year-old Alabama alum, makes a lot of sense for the team. They’re going nowhere fast this season and should be evaluating any potential young talent they can.
Those three players are nowhere near being able to even half fill the voids the Nets have for the rest of this season. Talent-wise, production-wise, and most importantly, familiarity wise.
Don’t forget, teams have limited time to practice together before games startup. Jacque Vaughn has his hands full in getting these players up to speed, creating a rotation, and getting everyone (somewhat) on the same page.
What Can Jacque Vaughn do to Earn a Chance?
This is tough to answer. Anything he does is only worth anything if he can gain the support of Durant and Irving this off-season. Without those two fully behind him, it’s a lost cause.
Still, he can push himself into consideration for both the Nets job and future jobs with other teams by impressing in Orlando.
Make the Playoffs, Hang onto the 7th Seed
Brooklyn will enter the 8 game season resumption in the 7th spot of the Eastern Conference. They trail the 6th seed by 8.5 games.
Going the other direction, they have a .5 game lead on the Magic who are in 8th place. The Wizards are 6 games behind Brooklyn, representing the 9th and final Eastern Conference team attending the bubble.
Part one of this task is simple: Don’t free-fall and let the Wizards jump ahead of you. Everyone understands the circumstances surrounding the Nets in the bubble, and no one is expecting them to do anything out of their abilities. That means, win a couple games, beat who you’re supposed to/ capable of beating, and make sure you get to the playoffs.
Part two is harder: Don’t let the Magic leapfrog you. They’re close, talented, and relatively healthy.
How can Jacque Vaughn and the Nets ensure they achieve both of these goals? Games one and two of the 8-game season are against Orlando and Washington. Losing both is unacceptable, winning both is possible. Having the team working well together so quickly will look very good on the staff and all players.
Of the next 6 games, Brooklyn gets another match-up with Orlando and a game with the Kings. These are the obvious winnable games on their schedule. If the Nets handle business where they should, they should find themselves as the 7th seed when the playoffs roll around.
Feature Caris LeVert in a Productive Fashion
This is the big one for Vaughn to impress front offices around the league.
It’s not just about featuring LeVert, who is their best player attending the bubble, it’s about putting him in positions to succeed. Getting him looks he is comfortable with, getting him the ball in spots he’s most effective, the X’s and O’s.
This not only shows what coach Vaughn can do from a strategy standpoint but also shows he can be trusted with young, emerging talent.
That means not asking him to rely on Catch & Shoot opportunities, where he is shooting just 31.9% on the season. run Isolation? Even worse on the season. In hand-off situations? Possibly, but the sample size is very small.
Jacque Vaughn and his staff must figure out where he can be utilized best because he’s now their number one scorer by a wide margin. Not just in production, but in overall talent and ability. Brooklyn will only go as far as he takes them offensively. Yes, Joe Harris will be important in helping him, but LeVert is far more versatile and capable of leading the way.
An additional positive here: LeVert may be used by the Nets front office in trade talks for a 3rd star this off-season. Obviously, a big showing in Orlando and the playoffs specifically could boost this value.
Caris LeVert has an old school game, he scores the ball at all three levels, he can handle it, he’s 6’6 and he takes pride in getting buckets. This Orlando bubble is going to be huge for his career. He has a real chance to establish himself as one of the future stars.
— Ball Don’t Stop (@balldontstop) July 12, 2020
Jacque Vaughn is approaching the most unique audition I can imagine, but the deck stacked against him doesn’t make it impossible.
If Vaughn leads the Nets to the playoffs, wins a game against either Toronto or Milwaukee, and has an existing defense while playing the likes of Beasley, Crawford, and Johnson, he’s more than deserving of being considered for the Nets job long term.
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