Denton: Calming Presence of Vaughn Helping Young Magic

By John Denton
January 4, 2013


ORLANDO – In seven of his first eight NBA seasons, Orlando Magic point guard Jameer Nelson played for a coach who would shatter clipboards from time to time (Brian Hill) and another who would fly off in fits of rage (Stan Van Gundy) when things went wrong.

So naturally, it’s been somewhat of an adjustment for Nelson while playing for Jacque Vaughn, a rookie head coach who preaches positivity and one whose voice only seems to rise when he’s asking a referee for a timeout.

In what has become the Magic’s roughest patch of the season – a seven-game losing streak where five of the defeats been excruciating ones by four points or less – the team has come to rely on the consistency and even-keeled approach of Vaughn, Nelson said. For the holdovers from the previous coaching staff, it’s been an adjustment, but also a welcomed change.

``(Vaughn) kind of allows us to figure it out as a team. When we’re on the court he can’t always figure it out for us, so (his calmness) is a good thing,’’ Nelson said of his coach. ``I’m not used to it in terms of what I used to go through in terms of coaches. I’m not saying whether my last coach (Van Gundy) was good or bad, but it’s something that I’m just now starting to get used to.’’

From the day that he was hired by the Magic in July, Vaughn has vowed that coaching would not change who he is as a person or his friendly, low-key demeanor. He played for some of the fieriest coaches in NBA history in Jerry Sloan, Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers, but Vaughn gives off the appearance of being the calmest guy in the arena during games. And in practices, locker room settings and one-on-one meetings, he’s has the same demeanor with players.

There is a method to the, well, lack of madness, Vaughn said. He believes that players respond best to positivity, honesty and fairness, while also driving them hard and holding them to high standards.

``Just because I’m not swearing every other word doesn’t mean that I’m not holding guys accountable. That’s the most important part that I have not strayed and I will not stray from holding guys accountable,’’ said Vaughn, who is the NBA’s youngest head coach at 37 years old. ``I’ve always believed that the honesty and fairness, if you consistently present that to your players, they can accept it.

``There are different ways to lead and from Day 1 I have said that I’m going to be who I am and no one else,’’ Vaughn continued. ``I’m not trying to coach like anyone else and this is me and my personality. I’m a positive person and I’m going to continue to be that way.’’

The Magic’s seven-game skid – the franchise’s longest since an eight-game losing streak during the 2005-06 season – has to be testing the faith and patience of Vaughn. Orlando has not won since losing Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis to a shoulder injury, and while the power forward is making quick progress in his recovery, he won’t play Saturday night when the Magic (12-20) host the New York Knicks (22-10).

``The overall streak of losing does start to overcome you,’’ Magic shooting guard Arron Afflalo admitted. ``The losing of a game, I can usually overcome that the next day. But when I think about losing that many in a row, I don’t think I’ve ever lost this many in a row.’’

What has made the losing even tougher to take for the Magic is the narrow fashion in which they have fallen. The Magic have lost by three points to Toronto, four points to Utah, three points against New Orleans, two points in overtime to the Heat and two points against Chicago on Wednesday night. Prior to this rough patch, Orlando was 2-0 in games decided by five points or less. But they can’t seem to find a way now to pull out a victory at the end of tight games.

But Nelson said the fact that the Magic have been in practically every game and could have won several of them with one more basket late in the fourth quarter is actually a driving force for the team. Nelson heads into Saturday’s game needing 10 assists to become the franchise’s all-time leader in that category, passing Scott Skiles.

``You have to look at it like this – we’re still gaining something in the games that we’re losing. All except the Toronto game, every game that we’ve played has been winnable,’’ the veteran point guard. You can take positives out of every game that we’ve lost so far. You have to try to build off those positives.’’

Vaughn said that while it’s sometimes easier to be the leader when things are going well, it’s even more important for him to remain true to himself now in a time of struggle. He said he has worked hard to treat players the same after wins and losses and to continue to have the same approach in good times and bad.

``I’m hoping to be an example of the way that I carry myself in practice and the consistency that I have,’’ he said. ``I really feel if guys see you (acting a certain way) and it’s genuine and honest, they believe it’s a state that you can live in. You still care about the outcomes and we all want to win games, but there’s a point where the consumption level has to be in a positive way where it’s not overriding your life.’’

While not ever being the biggest, quickest or most talented player, Vaughn carved out an All-American career as a high school player, an All-Big 12 status in college at Kansas and stuck around the NBA for 12 years by driving himself to exceed expectations. Vaughn said he still holds the belief that if he stays true to himself, works hard and doesn’t try to cut corners, that he can ``will’’ the Magic past this losing streak and back to their winning ways. Regardless, Vaughn vowed to keep his positive, even-keeled approach as he pushes the Magic to continually strive for better.

``One of the parts that makes me me is the grittiness and the competitiveness that I have, but I was the type who always felt I could will myself through things,’’ Vaughn said. ``Whether it was willing myself from being the third point guard to the second guard or willing myself to be the best assistant coach or being a great head coach. I lean on those areas that have gotten me through a lot – my will to compete and realizing I have to get better tomorrow.

``I’m hoping our players are starting to realize how I am and we’re getting a comfort level with each other,’’ Vaughn continued. ``I’m not any less or more passionate than any other coach and sometimes I express it and show it, but for the most part I’m going to stay in a positive state because that’s when good things happen. For our team, that’s a good place to live in.’’

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