No stranger to drama lately, the Nets avoided a lengthy coaching search and made a quick decision to hire someone familiar.
The team named longtime Nets assistant Jacque Vaughn as head coach on Wednesday to replace Steve Nash, who was fired last week. Vaughn has coached the team on an interim basis in all four games since then.
Vaughn took over at a particularly difficult time for the organization, whose star point guard Kyrie Irving posted a link to an anti-Semitic film on Twitter in late October. The Nets suspended Irving indefinitely for refusing to disavow anti-Semitism. He missed four games, including Wednesday’s 112-85 home win over the Knicks, and the team said he will miss at least one more.
“Finding someone with some stability is JV,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said. “Very stable, ready under pressure. Gentleman. It’s kind of who he is.
Before Wednesday’s game, Vaughn met with reporters and smiled brightly. When answering a question, he nodded to rampant rumors last week that the Nets had selected Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka, who is suspended for the season, to replace Nash.
“I guess I was the write-in candidate,” Vaughn said with a laugh. He added: “I’m ok with that. I told my wife that I might not be her first choice and that we’ve been together for 20 years. So, you know, anything could go wrong. fix. Let’s go.
Vaughn has been an assistant coach for the Nets since 2016 and served as interim head coach in 2020 after Kenny Atkinson was fired as coach. The Nets considered him to replace Atkinson but eventually hired Nash, and Vaughn remained on Nash’s team.
On Wednesday, Marks praised Vaughn for stepping in, yet again, as interim coach. This time, Marks saw enough to give him a chance on a more permanent basis.
The Nets were 2-2 under Vaughn heading into Wednesday’s game, and Marks said he liked the energy around the team in those four games.
“We look at the big picture and have had a relationship with him for seven years, his relationship with the players, his competitive spirit, a lot of that goes a long way,” Marks said. “We see how this team, to be quite frank, has responded to him lately.”
Vaughn said he hasn’t contacted Irving since his suspension Thursday.
“I thought as a service, it wasn’t up to me to do that,” Vaughn said. “I have always understood my limits as an assistant coach. This may change in the future in the position I currently find myself in.
Marks said he also hasn’t spoken to Irving since Thursday, but he didn’t explain why he didn’t.
The team announced on November 1 that it had agreed to part ways with Nash. Soon after, the media began linking the Nets to Udoka, who was suspended by the Celtics in September for violating unspecified team policies. According to two people familiar with the situation who were not authorized to speak about it publicly, Udoka had a relationship with a subordinate.
When asked specifically why he didn’t hire Udoka, Marks said it wouldn’t be appropriate to discuss which candidates were considered. The Celtics gave Udoka permission to talk to other teams and won’t demand compensation if another team signs him, according to a person briefed on the matter who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.
Nash initially had the backing of Irving and forward Kevin Durant when he was hired in 2020 with no coaching experience. But he presided over a chaotic period for the franchise that included: Irving missing most of the 2021-22 season because he wouldn’t get a coronavirus shot; injuries to Durant and Ben Simmons; and James Harden being traded to the Nets from Houston — then to Philadelphia from the Nets as the team struggled last season.
This summer, The Athletic reported that Durant asked team owner Joe Tsai to choose between him or Marks and Nash. Nash, Marks and Durant all said at media day in September that they were ready to continue together.
Healthy again to start this season, the Nets continued to struggle. They started the year 2-5 before firing Nash. Marks said the players had “no” input into the decision and that he and Nash “felt it was about time”.
“If I sat here and listed one by one all the things he had to go through during his tenure here, I would be doing him a disservice because he doesn’t want an apology,” Marks said. “It’s not who he is. So he certainly hasn’t had an even playing field for two years here. And for that, I certainly feel some responsibility because it’s not all on him.”
Vaughn began his NBA journey as a player, with a 12-year career that included two seasons with the Nets. He won a championship as part of the San Antonio Spurs in 2007.
It was in San Antonio that Vaughn’s playing career ended and his coaching career began. He was assistant coach Gregg Popovich for two seasons before the Orlando Magic hired Vaughn as head coach in July 2012.
The Magic was beginning a rebuild. They traded All-Star center Dwight Howard that summer, then went 20-62 in Vaughn’s first season. It was the NBA’s worst record, and the following year was only marginally better at 23-59. After a 15-37 to 15-37 start to the season, the Magic fired Vaughn.
He joined the Nets staff from Atkinson in the summer of 2016. The Nets fired Atkinson on March 7, 2020, less than a week before the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. When the NBA resumed the season in a bubble environment at Walt Disney World in Florida that summer, Vaughn coached the team to a 5-3 record in playoff ladder games, then lost to the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs.
“I was a young coach,” Vaughn said. “I’m really happy to have accepted this job. It made me a better assistant coach. He added, “I just grew as an individual. Much more sure of myself, as you can see with this beard here.
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