Jacque Vaughn is no longer interim Nets head coach. Image: Getty Images
Just hours before a nationally televised matchup against the New York Knicks, the Brooklyn Nets opted for some semblance of stability, or at least a steady shoulder to lean on, as they clinched the title from assistant coach Jacque Vaughn removed.
Whoever is applying for the position of open public relations coordinator at Nets just breathed a sigh of relief that they won’t have to answer for the hiring of Ime Udoka, which was imminent a week ago.
The guts it would have taken to saunter Ime Udoka through the doors to face the starved New York media and expect the focus to be basketball would have required Simone Biles-level gymnastics. Udoka’s negotiations with the Nets may have hit an impasse as cooler heads began convincing owner Joseph Tsai to avoid the artificial drama and just stick with Vaughn.
Promotion of Udoka in 2020 or early 2021 when he was in the Nets team would have been a good idea. It was terrible optics to hire a controversy magnet that was Eric Benet, who worked his way out of the job at the Celtics just two months after being suspended for the season by Boston’s human resources department.
In 2022 Udoka was too much for this team. Each press conference for the first few weeks was a 21-question game about his inappropriate relationship with a Celtics employee. In Vaughn, the Nets have a head coach who, like Udoka, has worked his way up from NBA journeyman to assistant. If anything, Vaughn’s hiring is getting them the positive press they sorely need. Not only did the franchise fire Steve Nash, the NBA’s last white North American superstar to consider replacing him with a black coach embroiled in a scandal, they changed their minds and promoted a deserving, scandal-free minority coach.
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And Vaughn knows a little bit about bouncing back from a bumpy start. In 2001, he started the regular season with an NBA-record 22 straight shots and had the TNT crew of Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith praying that his shot would finally fall. He ended up shooting a career-high 47 percent from the field that season.
Vaughn will need that kind of resilience to steer Brooklyn back off the craggy rocks they hurtled toward during their 2-5 start. His course correction was a short-term success, and the Nets’ downward spiral has seemingly slowed since his promotion. One more reason to keep up the good vibes.
Vaughn’s ability to navigate failure is emblematic of why superstars rarely make good coaches. As an active player, Vaughn was a no-frills, exhilarating backup point guard. He’ll need that background and his familiarity in the dressing room as a Nets assistant since 2016 to bond with Kyrie Irving in a way Steve Nash never could. Although Nash was the coach Durant signed after meeting him while Nash was the Warriors’ player development adviser, he made him a scapegoat over the summer.
Ultimately, Irving’s disobedience was the last straw. According to an anonymous pre-scout witnessed during Nash’s most recent loss, a match against the Indiana Pacers on Oct. 29, Irving ignored Nash’s play calls nearly a dozen times. Coupled with reports that Irving would be coaching following Nash’s departure from the facility last season, it’s apparent that Vaughn’s previous experience in NBA fights is much needed. On a Superstar-laden roster, Vaughn is the rowdy pro who crawled through the dirt just to get this opportunity.
Like Udoka, Vaughn can claim an advanced coaching degree from the School of Gregg Popovich after spending two seasons on the Spurs staff before accepting the job as Orlando Magic head coach. His first opportunity as NBA head coach was a death trap. He was relieved of his duties after three seasons, but no one has won in Orlando since.
The Nets needed a serious coach who could moonlight as a Sherpa through stormy weather rather than anchor them in the eye of a hurricane, and they got one in Vaughn.