Nets name Jacque Vaughn as head coach
By Tania Ganguli
No stranger to drama lately, the Brooklyn Nets eschewed a protracted coaching search and made a quick decision to hire someone familiar.
The team named longtime Nets assistant Jacque Vaughn as head coach Wednesday to replace Steve Nash, who was fired last week. Vaughn has coached the team in an interim capacity in the four games since then.
Vaughn took over at a particularly fraught time for the organization, whose star point guard Kyrie Irving posted a link to an antisemitic film on Twitter in late October. The Nets suspended Irving indefinitely for refusing to disavow antisemitism. He has missed four games, including Wednesday’s 112-85 win at home over the New York Knicks, and the team said he would miss at least one more. The Nets’ next game is Saturday on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers.
“Finding somebody with some stability, that’s JV,” Nets general manager Sean Marks said. “Very stable, poised under pressure. Gentleman. That’s sort of who he is.”
Before Wednesday’s game, Vaughn met with reporters and smiled brightly. In answering one question, he nodded to the rampant rumors of the past week that the Nets had chosen Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka, who is suspended for the season, to replace Nash.
“I guess I was the write-in candidate,” Vaughn said, laughing. He added: “I’m OK with that. I said to my wife, I might have not been her first choice, and we’ve been together 20 years. So, you know, it could all work out. Off we go.”
Vaughn has been an assistant coach for the Nets since 2016 and served as an interim head coach in 2020 after Kenny Atkinson was fired as coach. The Nets considered him to replace Atkinson but ultimately hired Nash, and Vaughn remained on Nash’s staff.
On Wednesday, Marks praised Vaughn for stepping in, again, as an interim coach. This time, Marks saw enough out of him to give him a shot on a more permanent basis.
The Nets had a 2-2 record under Vaughn heading into Wednesday’s game, and Marks said he liked the energy around the team during those four games.
“We’re looking at the big picture here and having a relationship with him for seven years, his relationship to players, his competitive spirit, a lot of that goes a long way,” Marks said. “We’re seeing how this team, to be quite frank, has responded to him lately.”
Vaughn said he had not reached out to Irving since he was suspended on Nov. 3.
“I thought in the capacity that I was serving that it wasn’t my place to,” Vaughn said. “I’ve always understood my boundaries as an assistant coach. That could change going forward in the position that I’m in now.”
Marks said he had not spoken to Irving since last Thursday, either, but he did not explain why he hadn’t.
The team announced Nov. 1 that it had agreed to part ways with Nash. Not long afterward, news media reports began to link the Nets with 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 female subordinate.
When asked specifically about why he didn’t hire Udoka, Marks said it wouldn’t be appropriate to discuss what candidates were considered. The Celtics have given Udoka permission to talk to other teams and will not 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 support of Irving and forward Kevin Durant when he was hired in 2020 with no previous coaching experience, but he presided over a chaotic time for the franchise that included: Irving missing most of the 2021-22 season because he would not get vaccinated against the coronavirus; injuries to Durant and Ben Simmons; and James Harden being traded to the Nets from Houston — and then to Philadelphia from the Nets as the team struggled last season.
This summer, The Athletic reported that Durant had 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 move on together.
Healthy again to start this season, the Nets continued to struggle. They began the year 2-5 before firing Nash. Marks said that players had “zero” input on the decision, and that he and Nash “felt that it was time.”
“If I sat here and listed one by one all the things that he had to go through over his tenure here, I’d be doing him a disservice because he doesn’t want excuses,” Marks said. “That’s not who he is. So he has certainly not had an even playing field over two years here. And for that, I certainly feel definitely some responsibility because this does not all fall 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.
San Antonio was where Vaughn’s playing career ended and his coaching career began. He was an assistant for coach Gregg Popovich for two seasons before the Orlando Magic hired Vaughn as their head coach in July 2012.
The Magic were beginning a rebuild. They traded the All-Star center Dwight Howard that summer, then went 20-62 in Vaughn’s first season. It was the worst record in the NBA, and the next year was only slightly better at 23-59. After a 15-37 start to the 2014-15 season, the Magic fired Vaughn.
He joined Atkinson’s Nets staff in the summer of 2016. The Nets fired Atkinson on March 7, 2020, less than a week before the season was suspended because of 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 seeding games and then lost to the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs.
“I was a young coach,” Vaughn said. “I’m definitely glad I took that job. It made me a better assistant coach.” He added: “I’ve just grown as an individual. Much more secure in myself, as you can see with this beard right here.”