Show of hands…
Who thought Nets interim coach Jacque Vaughn would manage to get some wins and lead the Nets to the playoffs after Kenny Atkinson was fired as the Nets coach and when the pandemic struck?
If any Nets fan raised his or her hand, he or she is probably lying. No one thought that way, especially with Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, and Taurean Prince not playing after testing positive for coronavirus and Wilson Chandler opting out to be with his family. I mean Kyrie Irving did not think it was worth his time to play in the restart, so he milked his shoulder injury by not playing. Some suggested the Nets should forfeit their games.
Only the players remaining on the roster felt that way, and they proved it by winning three of their five games in the restart, including a 119-116 upset victory over NBA championship contender Milwaukee Bucks, to make the playoffs. Overall, Vaughn is 5-2 as the Nets interim coach and has turned this squad into a regular for the NBA pick of the day.
From watching the Nets a few games, the interim coach made a case to his bosses that he should be the permanent coach next season.
Nets general manager Sean Marks likes what he saw out of his interim coach, and if he had his way, Vaughn would be the coach next season since they both work well together.
But Nets owner Joseph Tsai, Kevin Durant, and Irving will have the ultimate say on who’s the coach of the Nets. It remains to be seen if Vaughn won them over. The three of them prefer to hire a big-name coach since it would improve the team’s championship chances and viability in the New York market. A head coach like Mark Jackson or Jeff Van Gundy comes to mind.
Tom Thibodeau would have been the favorite but he preferred to coach the Knicks since he knew there’s something about turning the Knicks around.
He knows he would be a hero just for leading the Knicks to the playoffs after an awful last few seasons. He understands how big the Knicks are in town after experiencing it for himself. If he won a championship with the Nets, it wouldn’t be that much of a big deal.
It would be foolish to promote Vaughn just by what he did on small sample size, especially when this is a typical reaction of players in responding favorably by winning after a coach gets fired. The Nets made a mistake like that when they once promoted Don Casey because the team responded to him by playing better and winning games after John Calipari was fired in the late 90s. Casey flopped in the 2000-2001 season, and he was fired after that.
If the Nets retain Vaughn, it will be because Durant and Irving are comfortable working with him. Again, that remains to be seen. Neither played a game for him, and neither wants to waste their prime years playing for a coach that they really don’t know.
But hiring Jackson and Van Gundy can be risky. Yes, Durant and Irving know Jackson well, and they would respond to him. The problem with Jackson is that he can be hard to work with as the Golden State Warriors can attest from his coaching days with them. He likes to play politics with his players, and that alienated some of his players and his bosses in the end.
Oh, Jackson will win games. But what has he shown that he can be a championship coach? How is it the Warriors took off when he was fired?
Van Gundy hasn’t coached in a long time, and it’s not like he showed he can be a championship coach when he was a head coach. His Houston Rockets teams underachieved with Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady in the first round often, which explained why the Rockets fired him.
What’s the guarantee he will do any better with Durant and Irving? Just because the former Knicks coach coached in this market means nothing. That should not be the sole reason for the Nets to hire him.
It’s about hiring the best guy who can work well with Marks and the players. There has to be synergy with the head coach, management, and players.
Vaughn works well with Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen. This boosts his chances since those three are young players that he worked with as an assistant coach when it came to player development. When a coach develops a strong relationship with those young players, it shows that bond can result in winning and better performances based on the trust factor.
Player development tends to be important for teams in sports, and Vaughn is good at that. No one can say the same for Van Gundy or Jackson. Jackson coached Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as raw rookies, but those two players were supposed to be good, so how much development could he have made? Van Gundy never coached young players with the Knicks and Rockets.
And please don’t mention Jason Kidd as a candidate. He flopped as a Nets coach, and he pulled a power play to get Billy King fired as a general manager so that he could be the general manager. The Nets would be stupid to try him again.
From watching Vaughn coach, he can manage players and being the voice of the franchise for fans to hear. He can also run a game.
For Vaughn to win games with most of his players out, that’s coaching. For the Nets to pull an upset against the Milwaukee Bucks this week, that’s coaching.
One thing Vaughn has done better than Atkinson is this: He gets his players ready to play.
I don’t know if Vaughn will be a great coach in the long run.
But from watching him, what do the Nets have to lose in hiring him?