Now more than ever, it seems in the NBA that head coaches can be fired on whim. Even the successful ones aren’t safe it seems, with the likes of George Karl, Mark Jackson and particularly Lionel Hollins ruthlessly let go by teams in recent years even after decent playoff runs.
Add to that the fact that more and more teams are giving opportunities to first time coaches who have skipped the queue of being an assistant elsewhere first–Jason Kidd, Derek Fisher and Steve Kerr fit the bill here–and it is a difficult time to be a head coach.
With all of the wheeling and dealing done these days in trying to find the right captain to steer the ship, job security is almost non-existent. With that being said, should Orlando Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn be worried about his future in Florida?
Unlike some other coaches out there, Vaughn did not get a head coaching gig right away. To those who had forgotten, he became an assistant coach in San Antonio with the Spurs after retiring as a player, and that right there is a good sign already.
As an example and comparison, Mike Budenholzer having also served time with the Spurs learning the craft before becoming a head coach with the Atlanta Hawks himself. Learning from the great Gregg Popovich is pretty much the best hands on training a guy can get, so Vaughn will always have that invaluable experience to fall back on.
Looking at his record with Orlando though, it is not good at all. In his two seasons there the team has gone 20-62 and 23-59, however the team has spent a long time trying to get over the messy divorce from Dwight Howard, so these results were to be expected.
Vaughn didn’t have much to work with. Last year the team ranked 25th in points scored (96.5) with offense being an issue. Finishing 22nd in field goal percentage (44.5%) only compounded that fact.
Similarly, finishing 22nd in total assists per game (21) and 21st in rebounding (42) illustrate even more that this was a team that did things below average on the court. As mentioned, the roster was far from great, but the coach does have to accept some responsibility for this.
Despite these poor few years, Orlando should be commended in a way for sticking with him. Other organizations would have used Vaughn as a scapegoat by now, casting him to one side and blaming him for the team’s slow return to relevance.
In today’s world of wanting results yesterday, both the Magic and Vaughn have done a good job in building slowly and quietly. That changes starting next year though, and Vaughn better hope he is ready for the increased expectation and pressure that is guaranteed to come his way.
It will be his first true test as a head coach, and will tell us a lot about the kind of leader he will be.
Starting with the 2014 draft, which many Magic fans expect to see near instant returns from with their fourth pick, expectation will steadily rise. There is a young core in place with this team now, and the draft picks will only add to that.
Throw in the expected free agent signing/trade or two, and suddenly there will be something like a team in place. Realistic fans will know that this team is still probably a year shy of making the playoffs.
But yet, the Eastern Conference is as poor as it has been for quite sometime, and so at least an attempt at making the playoffs and aiming for between 35-40 wins is what will be expected. Now suddenly Vaughn has targets, and meeting them will not be easy.
Should he fail, it would still be nice to see Orlando stick with him going forward. Continuity breeds success, with the chop and change attitude far too widespread these days. Vaughn deserves a fair crack at turning this team into something and the hope is that he will get it, general manager Rob Hennigan seeming to form a solid and understanding duo with the coach.
As the stats show, a real improvement needs to be made on all areas of the floor. The next step is then beginning to win some games away from home. Nobody expects mad seven-game road win streaks or anything like that, just simply stealing some games on another team’s court.
The Magic won four games away from home last year, and while winning as a whole is what’s most important right now, adding to those road wins sure would be nice too. It’s what separates the good teams from the playoff bound teams.
All in all, it is pretty difficult to gauge how well Jacque Vaughn has done so far, because losing games and drafting high was the apparent game plan. The coming twelve months will tell us a lot more about how far he can bring this team.
He also needs to forge an identity on the court, this teams defends pretty badly and is even worse on the offensive end. Becoming a top ten team in one of those two areas should be a goal worth striving for, and one that will help turn things around here.
For now though, Vaughn has done all that he could, chiefly sit tight and smile through a lot of losses. Draft night and the ensuing free agency will be his first occasion where he can truly leave a mark on this team.