By John DentonFeb. 5, 2015
ORLANDO – Unable to shake the Orlando Magic from the throes of a 10-game losing streak and spur the development and improvement expected this season, Jacque Vaughn was fired from his job as head coach on Thursday.
James Borrego, Vaughn’s top assistant coach the past 2½ seasons, will take over the head coaching job on an interim basis. The Magic (15-37) have 30 games remaining and play next on Friday at the Amway Center against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Challenged with overseeing the Magic’s rebuilding process alongside of General Manager Rob Hennigan, Vaughn was 58-158 in 2½ seasons in Orlando. The Magic won just 20 games in 2012-13 and went 23-59 last season. Improvements were expected this season after the Magic signed veterans Channing Frye and Ben Gordon and drafted Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton, but the squad’s 15-37 record is identical to last season’s mark after 52 games.
``Jacque has been a trusted friend and colleague,’’ Hennigan said. ``We thank him immensely for his contributions and sacrifices in bringing our team to this point, and we greatly appreciate his unwavering commitment to our organization. We have tremendous respect for Jacque and certainly wish him the best as he embarks on the next phase of his career.’’
Orlando played inspired basketball on Wednesday night in San Antonio, but lost 110-103 to the Spurs. It was the team’s 10th consecutive loss – the eighth such skid in the 26-year history of the franchise. Four of those double-digit losing streaks – combined with two other nine-game skids – have come in the past 2 ½ seasons with Vaughn at the helm of the team.
``Jacque is such a good dude and he’s always been professional and a first-class guy. That’s what makes this day tough,’’ Magic forward Tobias Harris said. ``But this is a business though and you can’t forget that. This is part of the business.
``It’s a combination (of blame for the coaches and players),’’ Harris continued. ``In this situation we have underachieved as a team. We have to step our games up. This is a moment that we have to come together as a team and pick our stuff up.’’
Magic standout center Nikola Vucevic said that Thursday was ``a tough day’’ because of his admiration for Vaughn. Vucevic came to Orlando in 2012 and has been with Vaughn in Orlando for the past 2 ½ seasons.
``It’s tough because for me personally I always had a great relationship with Jacque,’’ said Vucevic, Orlando’s leading scorer and rebounder. ``He not only gave me playing time, but he trusted me and believed in me and got on me – which I always wanted. He really helped me improve my game. I know this is part of the business that we’re in, but it’s tough because Jacque is a really good coach but an even better person.’’
Sensing that the end of his coaching run in Orlando could be near, Vaughn said on Wednesday before the game in San Antonio that he would remain strong regardless of his fate.
``Adversity strengthens the strong and weakens the weak. There is no doubt about that,’’ said Vaughn, who will turn 40 years old on Wednesday. ``There are certain segments of your life that you look back on and you see what kind of knowledge that you had and see how you did against adversity. You hopefully become stronger and wiser from those segments in your life.’’
On Thursday, Vaughn released a statement through the team, saying: ``I would like to thank (Magic owner) Mr. (Rich) DeVos and family for the opportunity of representing the Orlando Magic as head coach. I am a stronger and wiser man and coach because of the opportunity. I look forward to seeing this group continue to grow. God bless, good luck. Jacque Vaughn…Proverbs 3:5-6.’’
The Magic seemed poised to salvage their season three weeks ago by snapping a six-game losing streak with impressive victories against the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets. But the team’s play quickly deteriorated after that and several lopsided losses followed.
The Magic have lost 16 of their last 18 games under Vaughn. Also, the Magic were just 5-17 at the Amway Center this season and suffered particularly ugly home losses to Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Indiana.
Borrego came to Orlando with Vaughn and has worked as the lead assistant for the past two-plus seasons. He has been the head coach of the Magic’s summer league entry and he usually takes an active role in the squad’s game prep. In the hours before Wednesday’s game in San Antonio, Borrego led the Magic through a lengthy film session.
Harris, for one, thinks that Borrego will do a solid job as the Magic’s coach for the rest of the season and possibly beyond.
``J.B. is a great guy and he’ll come in and do the best job that he can do,’’ Harris said. ``We have to have his back during this time. We have to want to win and play hard and do all that we can do to help (Borrego). But J.B. is going to be a good guy for us and he’ll get the best out of us.’’
Borrego is the coach who has played in a big role in Vucevic developing into one of the NBA’s best low-post players. The two often watch film together and go through shooting sessions together.
``J.B. is my guy and that’s who I have worked with on a daily basis, watched the film with and talked about games with,’’ Vucevic said. ``He’s a guy that I have a great relationship with and he’s a great guy. He always stays positive and brings energy to practice to pump us up. I know this will be tough for him because he was close with Jacque, but it’s on us as players to support (Borrego) and help him the best that we can.’’
Orlando has the fourth-youngest roster in the NBA this season, but improvement was still expected. Hennigan said before the season that he wanted the Magic to play ``more meaningful games’’ this season, but the hope of that was fading as the blowout losses continued to pile up. Orlando regressed greatly on defense this season, while the offense had one of the slower faces in the league until a recent push to have the team push the pace.
Vaughn mentioned repeatedly of late the fact that the Magic were starting two rookies (Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton) and a second-year player (Victor Oladipo) and without making excuses he blamed the Magic’s struggles on their inexperience.
But the team’s drop offs in both offensive and defensive efficiencies – gauges used by Hennigan to judge the team’s progress – were noticeable and ultimately sealed Vaughn’s fate as a coach. Because of their inability to slow down penetration and protect the rim, the Magic rank near the bottom of the league in several major defensive categories: 24th in points allowed, 26th in point differential, 29th in field goal percentage allowed, 24th in 3-point field goal percentage allowed and 26th in defensive efficiency.
The defensive woes have been even more pronounced of late as the Magic have yielded at least 100 points to each of the last 14 foes. Included in that were games where Oklahoma City scored 127 points and Detroit hammered the Magic for 128 points.
For much of the season, the offense hasn’t been much better. Frye, who was signed to a four-year free-agent contract in July, has failed to make a difference for the offense and he has struggled mightily on defense. Oladipo and Payton have shown flashes of promise, but have been spotty with their effectiveness as is often the case with young guards.
Other than center Nikola Vucevic and forward Harris, the Magic have had little in the way of consistent firepower this season. Early injuries to Oladipo and Frye slowed the cohesion of the offense, and turnover issues have also been a sticking point. Despite wanting to push the pace and take advantage of the team’s young legs and blossoming athleticism, Orlando ranks 24th in scoring, 25th in offensive efficiency and 23rd in fastbreak points.
Harris said the final 30 games of the season will serve as a big proving ground for the true makeup of this Magic team.
``We have to have a focus that we have to turn this thing around. As a team we have to come together as a collective unit,’’ Harris said. ``There are two ways that you can go during this time – you can go downhill or turn this thing upside down and run with it. That’s what we’re looking to do. With a new coach and a new voice, things are going to be a little different, but we have to buy in to what (Borrego) is telling us. We have to buy in and let him be our leader.’’