Mere hours before a nationally televised matchup against the New York Knicks, the Brooklyn Nets opted for a semblance of stability, or at least a stable shoulder to lean on, when they removed the interim tag from assistant coach Jacque Vaughn’s title.
Whoever is interviewing for the Nets open P.R. coordinator position just released a sigh of relief that they won’t have to answer for the Ime Udoka hire that seemed imminent a week ago.
The moxie it would have taken to stroll Ime Udoka through the doors to face the ravenous New York media and expect the focus to be on basketball would have required some Simone Biles-grade gymnastics. Udoka’s negotiations with the Nets may have reached an impasse when cooler heads began convincing owner Joseph Tsai to avoid the artificial drama and just stick with Vaughn.
Promoting Udoka in 2020 or early 2021, when he was on the Nets staff, would have been a good look. Hiring a controversy magnet who was Eric Benet-ing his way out of the Celtics job merely two months after he was suspended for the season by Boston’s Human Resources Department was terrible optics.
In 2022, Udoka was too much for this team to shoulder. Every press conference in the first few weeks would be a game of 21 questions about his improper relationship with a Celtics staff member. In Vaughn, the Nets have a head coach who, like Udoka, worked his way from NBA journeyman to assistant. If anything, Vaughn’s hiring earns them the positive press they badly need. Not only did the franchise fire the NBA’s last white North American superstar in Steve Nash, to consider replacing him with a Black coach engulfed in scandal, but they thought better of it, and promoted a deserving, scandal-free minority coach.
And Vaughn knows a little something about rebounding from rough starts. In 2001, he started the regular season missing an NBA record 22 consecutive shots and had the TNT crew of Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson, and Kenny Smith praying for his shot to finally fall. He wound up shooting a career-high 47 percent from the field that season.
Vaughn will need that sort of resilience to steer Brooklyn back from the jagged rocks they’ve been speeding toward during their 2-5 start. His course correction has been a short-term success, and the Nets’ downward spiral has seemingly slowed since his promotion. Which is all the more reason to keep those good vibes going.
Vaughn’s ability to navigate through failure is emblematic of why superstars rarely make good coaches. As an active player, Vaughn was a no-frills, heady backup point guard. He’ll need that background and his familiarity in the locker room as a Nets assistant since 2016 to connect with Kyrie Irving in ways that Steve Nash never could. Despite Nash being the coach that Durant signed off on after getting to know him while Nash was the Warriors’ player development consultant, he then turned him into a scapegoat over the summer.
Ultimately, Irving’s insubordination was the last straw. According to what an anonymous advance scout said he witnessed during Nash’s final loss, a contest against the Indiana Pacers on Oct. 29, Irving ignored Nash’s play calls nearly a dozen times. Coupled with reports that Irving would run practices after Nash left the facility last season, it’s obvious that Vaughn’s prior experience amid NBA struggles will be sorely needed. On a superstar-laden roster, Vaughn is the scrappy professional who has crawled through the muck just to get this opportunity.
Like Udoka, Vaughn can also claim an advanced coaching degree from the School of Gregg Popovich after spending two seasons on the Spurs staff before accepting the Orlando Magic’s head coaching job. His first NBA head coaching opportunity was a death trap. After three seasons, he was relieved of his duties, but nobody has won in Orlando since.
The Nets needed a serious coach who can moonlight as their sherpa through tempestuous weather instead of anchoring them in the eye of a hurricane and they got one in Vaughn.