Vaughn reduced to candidate in Nets’ coaching search
Interim tag should be lifted following 5-2 run in Orlando
Lauded by his players for guiding the Nets to their second straight postseason berth despite a makeshift roster that many thought shouldn’t even bother to show up to the league’s bubble site in Orlando, Florida, Vaughn remains an interim head coach competing for his own position.
“[Vaughn] puts us in position where we’re confident, comfortable to be on the court and go out there and compete whoever is out there,” said Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot after the Nets, having already clinched the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race, improved to 5-2 since the NBA restart.
Luwawu-Cabarrot and Jeremiah Martin scored 24 points apiece Tuesday as the resilient Nets beat the Orlando Magic, 108-96, improving Vaughn’s overall mark at the helm to 7-2 since he took over for Kenny Atkinson in early March.
Brooklyn was without starters Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert against Orlando, marking the second time in just over a week that Vaughn has led the Nets to victory despite resting his top remaining players.
The first was a historic 119-116 win over league-leading Milwaukee on Aug. 4 that saw Brooklyn, installed as a 19 1/2-point underdog, pull off the biggest against-the-odds upset the NBA has seen in the last 27 years.
Vaughn, however, has defied much more than the bookmakers during season 2.0.
He has kept the Nets motivated and hungry to compete and thrive despite a roster that had already been decimated by injuries and positive tests for COVID-19.
“There’s a care and competence level that we try to have a high standard and a high regard in developing guys. I think a big part of it is taking a whole man approach,” Vaughn noted following Tuesday’s win.
“It’s just not these guys on the court but off the court, and caring about them,” he added. “And then I’m a true believer in the confidence that you can get while playing, when your staff believes in you, when your teammates believe in you, there’s just something to it.”
Apparently, there isn’t enough belief yet among the Nets’ braintrust, namely Brooklyn owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks, to give Vaughn the full-time head coaching gig outright.
On the same day Brooklyn used a 16-0 first-quarter run to put the Magic away, news began filtering down that Tsai wanted Marks to put on a “full-scale coaching search,” even though the coach he has now is on nothing short of a miraculous run through this eight-game run-up to the playoffs.
The Nets showed up in Orlando without superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and rookie center Nic Claxton due to injury.
Spencer Dinwiddie, the team’s leading scorer and assists man, top rebounder DeAndre Jordan and veteran forward Taurean Prince tested positive for the coronavirus prior to the restart and all three opted out.
Add in the loss of Wilson Chandler for family-related reasons, and Vaughn and the Nets arrived in Orlando simply hoping to nab a win or two to avoid having to compete in a play-in series for the final spot in the East.
But none of those low expectations have mattered to Vaughn and the previously unknown names on the Brooklyn roster.
“Starters, no starters, whoever you are, we’re all humans and we’re all out there to compete,” said Luwawu-Cabarrot.
“We have a good group of coaches and they do a great job putting us in great position to compete and be in the best position on the court and do the best we can.”
The Nets’ best has been more than good enough at the ESPN Sports Complex, but the organization insists on kicking the tires on candidates ranging from franchise icon Jason Kidd to long-retired former Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy once this season is over.
Ty Lue, who guided the Cleveland Cavaliers to the 2016 NBA title, and Philadelphia 76ers assistant Ime Udoka have also been mentioned as potential candidates for a job Vaughn is not only handling quite capably, but thriving in.
“Everybody was laughing at us saying like the Nets were gonna look like this and seeing things all over the internet saying that we weren’t gonna do this,” Martin reminded Brooklyn’s pre-restart doubters.
“So we just take that every day, every practice, keeping that chip on our shoulder, proving everybody wrong and showing everybody who we are.”
That chip figures to remain firmly in place until the Nets inevitably run out of steam or games to play in Orlando.
But until then, Vaughn will keep Brooklyn focused on the task at hand, rather than getting distracted by all the noise surrounding his future with the franchise.
“These dudes have been playing this game for a long time,” he said. “So put them in positions to succeed and don’t overcomplicate this thing.”
It would serve the Nets best not to overcomplicate their own coaching search and simply put Vaughn in charge going forward.
Nothing But Net: Brooklyn (35-36) will close out the regular season portion of its schedule Thursday night against Portland with an opportunity to reach the .500 mark. As the No. 7 seed, Brooklyn will meet the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors in the opening round of the playoffs, though dates and times for that best-of-seven series have yet to be released.
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