Denton: Vaughn Stays Composed, Rests Starters Appropriately

By John Denton
October 17, 2012

ORLANDO – Whereas some rookie head coaches might have eagerly pursued their first victory, might have taken chances while seeking the professional validation an initial win might have brought, Jacque Vaughn has been unblinkingly resolute and patient this preseason for the Orlando Magic.

Vaughn could have kept his starters in a week ago when the Magic jumped up on New Orleans by 21 points, but he instead opted for the youngsters who stumbled in a five-point defeat. He could have kept J.J. Redick, Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis and Jameer Nelson on the floor late in games against Philadelphia and Cleveland to protect late leads – moves that almost assuredly would have guaranteed Orlando victories – but he didn’t want to push his veterans past their limits in minutes.

And when Vaughn rested four of the Magic’s starters Tuesday in Detroit against the steadily improving Pistons it all but assured the disappointing 112-86 defeat. But Vaughn was not about to put his most experienced players through a back-to-back set of games this early into the marathon that is the NBA season.

So through his first four preseason games as a head coach, Vaughn has yet to taste a NBA victory as a head coach. But, as Vaughn has stressed repeatedly already, this is about the betterment of the team and not some personal satisfaction of his own.

Vaughn’s unwillingness to flinch has even raised eyebrows among his own coaching staff. Assistant coach Wes Unseld Jr. stopped Vaughn before he went into the locker room Tuesday night to address the players postgame and said, ``Coach, you have a lot of patience.’’ Vaughn’s reply was that he’d rather have healthy veteran bodies, rookies getting looks and the trust of his team than silly preseason wins that will be long forgotten weeks from now.

``For us, it’s about having a comfort level right now with the way that I want to operate things and have a comfort level between the coaching staff and the players,’’ Vaughn said. ``It’s been two weeks (of the exhibition season) and there’s been some improvement. But at the same time, we’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m OK with that and we’ll get it done.’’

Following an off day on Wednesday, the Magic will be back at work on Thursday at practice. Orlando then hosts the Indiana Pacers at 7 p.m. on Friday night at the Amway Center.

The hope then is that shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who figures to be Orlando’s go-to scorer and top wing defender this season, could be ready to play by Sunday against the San Antonio Spurs. And that’s when Vaughn said he’ll start narrowing his rotation some and stretching out his veteran players to get used to playing 30-plus minutes a game.

``Toward the last three games we’ll approach them different as far as incorporating scouting and we’ll see who we have available,’’ Vaughn said. ``Definitely, for sure, I can tell you that the last three games will be approached differently.’’

Vaughn took the Magic job in July, knowing full well that Orlando was going through a transition phase what with Dwight Howard being traded to Los Angeles a month later. The Magic’s roster is now one of extremes with several hardened and proven veterans (Hedo Turkoglu, Al Harrington, Nelson, Redick, Afflalo and Davis) and seven players (Nikola Vucevic, Gustavo Ayon, E’Twaun Moore, Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O’Quinn, DeQuan Jones and Moe Harkless) who are either rookies or second-year players. So while at times Vaughn is having to push the brakes with the veterans, he is also forced to throttle the tempo with the youngsters to attempt to shorten the learning curve.

All the while, Vaughn’s voice rarely ever rises above conversational levels. Whereas former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy would rant and fume, scream and gyrate along the sidelines, Vaughn often looks as if he watching a tennis match as opposed to coaching basketball. He still remembers the one technical foul that he received as a player during his 12-year NBA career – ``second season, in Phoenix, from (referee) Eddie F. Rush – and has promised that his sideline demeanor will never reach ``garish’’ proportions.

This show of restraint, serenity and staying power is no act; it’s who Vaughn is as a person and a coach. He feels the best way to get the most out of a player is to earn his respect – all while also pushing him and maintaining high expectations. And thus far, Magic players have raved about the freedom Vaughn has offered and the positivity that he exudes.

``Win or lose, Jacque has done a great job out there,’’ Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. ``He has been great in timeouts and he is motivating us throughout. He’s translating so well to guys in the huddle.’’

Vaughn might be a rookie head coach, but his depth of basketball knowledge is immense. He learned the game from Jerry Sloan, Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers in the NBA and Roy Williams in college, so he points of reference for just about every scenario that could come up. Established NBA coaches such as Doug Collins, Monty Williams and Byron Scott have already boldly predicted that Vaughn will be a big hit as a NBA coach because of his basketball smarts and willingness to learn from those he’s worked with in the past.

One thing the coaches in Vaughn’s taught him was to build trust with players, and he’s made that his mission early in training camp. Resting players on back-to-backs and holding them out of overtime periods is one thing, but welcoming input and offering freedom has done wonders with building the relationship between the players and the new head coach. Said Vaughn: ``We want the right answer and that doesn’t mean it has to be my answer.’’

Vaughn took great pride is almost making it to halftime of his first preseason game without screaming out a play call from the sidelines. Again, some neophyte coaches might have tried to stamp their imprint on the first game by overcoaching or controlling every aspect, but instead Vaughn’s first instinct was to pull back and show the players that he trusts their judgment.

All of it – from the resting of players, encouraging input from the veterans and allowing players to make calls of their own on the floor – is being done with a particular purpose in mind. No, the Magic haven’t won a preseason game yet, but they will be better in the long run with some of the patient and unselfish measures that the rookie head coach has taken.

``The whole part of the beginning was to let (the players) have some ownership of what’s going on,’’ Vaughn stressed. ``I want them to know that we are really in this together and if they see something on the floor and I’ll listen to you.

``Offensively, I wanted this guys to get a sense of the pace and the cutting that we want and I wanted them to figure things out on their own at times,’’ Vaughn continued. ``I think they’ve done a good job of that. Will I call more plays? Indeed, I will. I could call every single play, but I want them making reads. This time we’ve had together has been about teaching.’’

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997. E-mail John at or follow him on Twitter at @JohnDenton555.

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