On Mar. 22, at approximately 9:51 A.M., Brooklyn Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn walked into the gymnasium at The Bergen Elementary School in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood. With a smile, Vaughn gave out a few greetings parlayed with handshakes before finding his seat.
The Nets and the New York Liberty were launching a new partnership with New York City Public Schools. To help their communities, both clubs will be offering free basketball clinics to elementary and middle schools in Brooklyn. Vaughn was present, minutes away from the Nets practice facility, passing his basketball knowledge onto the next generation.
It has been over four months since the Nets fired Steve Nash and promoted Vaughn as the head coach. Since then, his team has had its ups and downs, but Vaughn maintains a healthy amount of optimism. “I’m doing really good actually,” Vaughn told Hoops Habit. “You know, days like this are really important. It really brings things to the light of the day. [The] sun rose this morning, the day continues, kids are learning, and things are gonna be okay.”
The Nets are currently 39-33 after losing their last four games. They are sixth in the Eastern Conference, clinging to the Playoff spot with ten games left in the regular season. However, Vaughn emphasized the importance of serving the community no matter where the team stands.
“That’s the biggest thing, even at this time of the year, being able to still be part of the community, still be part of society. There’s gonna be some Nets fans that will come out of this,” Vaughn said with his hand pointed toward the students. “It’s a beautiful game that we’re part of. It transcends genders, states, and continents. You can pick up some elements of it and use it in your life– not too many better things than that.”
Dealing with team changes and the late-season push
Perhaps the biggest challenge the Nets faced this season was the shuffle at the trade deadline. Under Vaughn’s leadership, the highly-favored Nets finally played to their identity. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and the rest of the team were playing well. The Nets were riding a 12-game win streak from December to January. It was a sight to see for fans and frightening for the competition. Then things changed in a snap of a finger.
In a game against the Chicago Bulls, Durant sprained his right MCL. The injury kept him sidelined for over a month and left Irving to carry the weight of the Nets. While Irving looked like he finally committed to the team that signed him with title aspirations, the inevitable happened in February. Both Irving and Durant demanded trades, and the Nets granted their wishes. Brooklyn traded Irving to the Dallas Mavericks and Durant to the Phoenix Suns. In return, they received promising young talents in Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson and nine-year vet Spencer Dinwiddie. As a result, the Nets went from title favorites to the dark horse of the East.
Unlike most, Vaughn does not see the midseason changes in a negative light. Instead, he sees the opportunities that come with this new group. “At the end of the day, [we’re] just trying to expedite it and gelling this group together, never use that (midseason changes) as an excuse,” Vaughn said. “I’ll validate our guys while different roles and performances are being asked of them, that’s okay. It’s a great challenge but we’ll figure it out.”
With the end of the regular season on the horizon, the Nets now face the challenge of securing a postseason appearance. As for Vaughn, the mindset is as simple as taking things one step at a time.
“Overall, we’re a highly competitive group and that’s the most important thing,” he confidently stated. “So the next thing in our mind is we play tomorrow (Mar. 23) and we’re trying to win that game. The best thing is to not complicate it any more than that. Keep it that simple and our group will continue to grow together.”
The Nets will rematch their last game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Mar. 23 at Barclays Center.