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Nets interim coach Jacque Vaughn talks Brooklyn, Black Lives Matter and NBA restart

June 19, 2020 John Torenli
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Nets interim head coach Jacque Vaughn is all in for Brooklyn.

Whether the organization feels the same way about him is yet to be decided.

“I want to take advantage of the opportunity. I do want to continue to be the head coach,” Vaughn readily admitted Wednesday during a televised interview on the YES Network.

“I’ll say that. I enjoy being a part of Brooklyn. Brooklyn’s home for me.”

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Vaughn has not yet been assured by Nets General Manager Sean Marks that our borough will be his place of business going forward. But his career with the Nets is off to an impressive start.

He served four years as former head coach Kenny Atkinson’s top assistant before taking the reins following Atkinson’s departure from the Nets on March 7, just four days before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the league and sporting events around the world.

Having helped the Nets go from one of the NBA’s worst teams to a legitimate Eastern Conference contender during his years as an assistant, Vaughn stepped into the head coaching role with aplomb.

The 45-year-old Los Angeles native guided Brooklyn to a 110-107 victory over Chicago at Downtown’s Barclays Center on March 8.

Two days later, the Nets outlasted LeBron James and the Lakers, 104-102, in LA for arguably their most impressive win of the campaign.

And then, it all stopped.

Just as Vaughn and the Nets were riding a three-game winning streak into San Francisco, the continued global outbreak of the potentially deadly virus put basketball on the shelf.

“I was ready to go play Golden State,” Vaughn said of the Nets’ scheduled March 12 game against the defending Western Conference champion Warriors.

“We were on that West Coast trip so we had a little bit of mojo and momentum, so wanted to capitalize on that, so thinking coach-ways. All of a sudden, you had to shift your thought process; how can we take care of your guys? We had families with us on the West Coast trip. How can we take care of families? What are we going to do when we get back to Brooklyn?”

What the Nets did, like most of the rest of us, was shelter-in-place and wait for news of the city’s reopening as well as the league’s potential restart.

That time has come, as the Nets are one of 22 teams that have been invited to participate in the NBA’s Return to Play Plan in Orlando, Florida, an abbreviated eight-game schedule to finish up the regular season before a potential play-in series ahead of the traditional 16-team playoff format.

The Nets, who were hopeful that they might have previously injured superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving back by the time they descend on Disney World early next month, will instead go it without the high-priced superstar tandem Marks acquired last summer.

“It was an ongoing conversation. At the end of the day, we want both those guys to feel comfortable when they return to the floor,” Vaughn intimated.

“That’s the premium for us, whether that’s short-term or long-term. That conversation of how workouts were going for them, their ability to ramp back up after the quarantine, all those were factors that the communication both ways was really good.”

Neither Kevin Durant, left, nor Kyrie Irving are expected to be with the Nets in Orlando, Florida when the NBA restarts its season at Disney World next month. Photo: Adam Hunger/AP.

Missing his two top players won’t quell Vaughn’s desire to chase the franchise’s first-ever NBA title.

“I’ve just embraced this opportunity,” he said. “Embrace it means leading a group of men, being able to care about their lives on and off the basketball court, being connected with an organization that I have an affinity for, a leadership team that’s been incredible throughout this process, really reinforced my connection and commitment.”

Currently seeded seventh in the Eastern Conference, the Nets (30-34) simply need to maintain their position to avoid falling into a two-game play-in series against Washington or Orlando for the eighth and final playoff spot.

All games will be played in and around the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, sans fans, with the start date still tentatively scheduled for late July.

Vaughn can’t wait, not only to get together with his players in a more traditional manner than he’s been able to at the team’s HSS Training Center in Sunset Park, but also to see how his 23rd season as an NBA player or coach plays out.

“I’m excited about it,” Vaughn intimated. “I think it’s a combination of March Madness, so it takes me back to my college days. There’s a little bit of a Summer League element, so you’re going to have to be very flexible in your thought process. At the end of the day, though, we are getting back to competing, and so I am definitely looking forward to that.”

Vaughn, who both played and had a head-coaching gig in Orlando with the Magic, also noted how important the NBA’s platform will be when it returns, especially in the wake of an ongoing pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It’s been a very intricate balance. I think the most important thing has been the mental health of not only the players, the staff, the organization, and keeping that to the forefront,” said Vaughn, whose playing career spanned a dozen years before he entered coaching in 2010.

“So while you’re also trying to get better as a staff and you’re thinking about basketball, the preparation that goes along with that, you’re thinking about life as well and the mental health of people taking care of others, but also the self-care that goes along with the stress and anxiety at this time of life.”

Vaughn may have more on the line than any other Net in Orlando next month as he will be auditioning for a head-coaching job that is only temporarily his.

He’s also looking quite forward to cementing his spot in the organization.

“It’s the ultimate challenge of leadership; a position that was unexpected, situation, circumstances that were unexpected, unprecedented,” Vaughn said.

“It’s your time to make your mark and step up, so embrace that challenge, embrace the group.”

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