Photo by Fernando Medina/Orlando Magic
I must admit that I do not know a lot about Jacque Vaughn, Stan Van Gundy’s recently appointed successor as head coach of the Magic. This works both in his favor and against him when evaluating the decision.
On the one hand, he has no real track record of success, and therefore his aptitude as an NBA head coach is hard to set in stone. On the other hand, however, there are no obvious red flags or any real arguments against him other than a lack of experience. And for a team that is (probably) soon to plunge into the depths of a rebuild, a coach with a clean slate makes sense.
Vaughn possesses the one quality that seems forever at the top of many teams’ lists when hiring coaches or front-office executives: tenure in the San Antonio Spurs organization. It’s easy to see why this résumé point is appealing: the Spurs seem to be forever a factory of contention, both in player evaluation and draft acumen, and Gregg Popovich’s ability to turn seemingly any scrub into a valuable on-court contributor.
In his introductory press conference last week, Vaughn spoke glowingly of his time studying under Popovich, and for a novice coach, it’s hard to do better as a mentor. However, praising the hire by saying, “He’ll be fine, he comes from the Spurs’ system” is just as lazy and reductive as slamming it because of his lack of experience. He will have to make his own name as a coach now that he’s been given the reins of his own team.
It will be hard to truly evaluate how good the fit is until we have a clearer picture of what the team’s roster will look like come training camp. This, of course, means addressing the elephant in the room.
Vaughn took a few barely-concealed shots at Dwight Howard during his press conference, being careful to include in his list of traits he looks for out of his players is that they want to play in Orlando. This would seem to suggest that, should Howard begin the 2012-13 season in a Magic uniform, Vaughn’s patience for his now-infamous diva act will be low.
The good news for Vaughn, however, is that he’ll be given a pretty wide berth when it comes to criticism from the media. If the Magic struggle out of the gate with Howard in the fold, it will be hard to blame Vaughn for doing what he can with a superstar desperately wanting out. His real tenure as the Magic’s coach won’t begin until Howard is traded and he’s given a new, fresh roster.
Vaughn’s hire is a risk because of his lack of experience, but the Magic are a team that can afford to take this kind of gamble. They’re in the midst of a long, drawn-out battle with their most iconic player in two decades that has sunk them from perennial contender to also-ran, but also liberated them from any kind of expectations.
When taking a risk on an unknown, an ex-player with a high basketball IQ is a good direction to go in. It’s frustrating that he won’t be able to begin his tenure in earnest until Howard’s situation is sorted out, but for now, the Magic seem to be in good hands.