Jacques Vaughn was named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month earlier this week after leading the Nets to a 12-1 record in December. Now is the time to consider him as the NBA Coach of the Year.
It’s not that far.
Vaughn took midstream, trying to steer the ship, which was leaking heavily. The dysfunctional Nets were 2-5, 12th in the Eastern Conference and dealing with controversy surrounding Kyrie Irving, who was suspended by the team. Since replacing Steve Nash on Nov. 1, Vaughn has instilled a no-nonsense, basketball-first culture and went 24-8, including a 108-102 victory over the Pelicans on Friday night..
Going into the weekend, Vaughn was the second favorite to win Coach of the Year, behind the Celtics’ Joe Mazzulla, by about a 3-to-1 margin. And all the Nets beat, the question of his players say that he can not be the leading candidate, but how can he be?
“Yes, the potential has always been there, [but] he’s in a situation where it’s hard to understand the situation with shooting and Kyrie,” Markieff Morris told The Post. “He’s done a great job of letting us know when we come here for basketball [takes precedence] over everything. … We’re going to finish well, so how do we go through what we’ve been through and where are we now and where do we go in the future?”
“Get your flowers”
The Nets have the best record in the NBA since Vaughn took over — running at roughly a 61-game winning streak — and are currently (tied with the Nuggets) for second-best overall, one game behind the Celtics is lagging behind. The Nets are the only team ranked in the top 5 in offensive and defensive rating since November 1st.
The chance to get a ring is expensive, and Vaughn’s instruction gave them that. It’s no exaggeration to say that he saved the Nets’ season, and whether Irving follows him or not, it saved their championship hopes come June. That alone should put Vaughn in the Coach of the Year conversation.
“He’s got to get his flowers,” starting center Nick Claxton told The Post. “He definitely turned it around, changed things for us. And everyone can see it. Everyone in the organization can feel it. And people around the league should definitely take notice. … He should definitely be nominated for coach of the year. “I don’t think there are many coaches in the world who can change what’s happening here.”
Vaughn was off the board when he took over on Nov. 1. A month later, he was still betting long. A few weeks ago, he finished third behind Mazzulla and Willie Green, whose Pelicans the Nets lost Friday night for their 17th win in their last 19 games.
Former Nets assistant GM Bobby Marks believes Vaughn’s guidance has been an invaluable part of the Nets’ resurgence.
“I think the coaching change helped,” Marks, now an ESPN insider, told The Post. “I think Jacques has done a great job leading these guys. They are more free – I think that played a big role.
Vaughn, who earned Coach of the Month honors for the first time in his career, became the sixth Nets coach to receive the honor during his two-decade career. Only one of them (Byron Scott) made it to the NBA Finals, and none of them won Coach of the Year. Vaughan tends to the former, but the latter should be considered.
Main winger Royce O’Neill agreed.
“Absolutely. The way we started the season, he can’t do that,” O’Neal told the Post. He believed in us and we believed in him. He took it upon himself to be a coach for us and said he’s going to hold everyone accountable and make sure everyone plays hard and plays the right way. I think everyone is just locked in and focused and then they listen to it. “
Vaughn’s style and influence
The coaching led Durant to an MVP nomination and what could be the best season of his career at age 34. Vaughn also helped keep the franchise player happy and allayed his fear of repeating his summer trade request.
Irving admits the 47-year-old’s guidance has made him a better point guard even after earning a seven-star transfer. This season, he ranks eighth as the leading vote-getter among Eastern Conference guards in early voting released Thursday.
“I think he adds a level … he gives you an ease,” Irving said of Vaughn. “When you walk into the locker room, nothing is forced. You know, it’s not too high or too low. He simply holds himself to high standards and exemplifies what a leader should be.
“So as our head coach, as a leader, I’ve been able to learn some things from him and that’s just getting along with everybody and getting the best out of everybody. That’s been a lesson for me this year, learning how to get the best out of everyone instead of trying to do it all yourself or overthinking the game. There are good parts in that locker room, that coaching staff. The level of play has to be raised and it has to be easier.”
One of the oldest and most famous sayings in college football is, “It’s not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmys and the Joes that make the difference.” It is also one of the most obvious and applies here. Whether he’s talking to Kyrie Irving or Joe Harris, Vaughn has shown a knack for getting his message across and helping it stick.
“I think it’s a big responsibility for a head coach to learn each person individually,” Vaughn said. “Even though I often reach out to the team, most of the conversations are one-on-one.
“I believe that people take criticism, responsibility, knowledge, opinion in different ways. So it’s up to me to focus on how I use the time to talk to each guy. I am proud of it. I think it’s important. We all want to be heard, seen and celebrated. I think you do that individually and as a team.”
The original Brooklyn Nets sign
Mandy Gutman is stepping down as executive vice president of communications and public affairs for Nets parent company BSE Global at the end of 2022.
Gutmann started with BSE the same day it opened its Brooklyn office in March 2012 and played a key role in the launch of the Brooklyn Nets, the opening of Barclays Center and several other milestones for the company. He worked closely with team owner Joe Tsai and several BSE CEOs during his career.
It is not clear who will replace Gutman.
Back on the road
Nets superfans and road warriors Dawn Risueno and husband Richard Johnson are back on the road after their tour was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They have recent road games in Atlanta and Chicago and are scheduled to travel to New Orleans on Friday and Miami on Sunday – heading to Las Vegas last week while the Nets return home to host the Spurs returned.