Orlando, Fla. — With a new general manager and the status of All-Star Dwight Howard still in limbo, there’s much to be resolved before the Orlando Magic take the floor next season.
But the team’s top officials believe they have the right person in new head coach Jacque Vaughn to help turn the page on a year that almost everyone in the franchise wants to forget.
Magic general manager Rob Hennigan and CEO Alex Martins said Monday that Vaughn has the discipline, work ethic and pedigree as both a player and assistant to do the job.
“We’re going to continue to try to build a culture here,” Hennigan said at the news conference introducing Vaughn. “A culture that our players represent. A culture that our fans can be proud of. A culture our team will rally around. We feel we took a step in the right direction in building that culture with Jacque here today.”
Vaughn becomes the 10th coach in franchise history after 12 years as an NBA player and two years as and assistant in San Antonio. He takes over for Stan Van Gundy, who was fired in May. He said he’s looking forward to working with whoever is on the roster when training camp opens in a few months.
Asked if there was any hesitation in taking his first head coaching job with so much uncertainly surrounding the team and particularly Howard, he said the opportunity outweighed it all.
“Faith. Faith in your abilities. Faith in the people around you,” Vaughn said about what drives him. “One of the great character-building attributes of the franchises I’ve been around — the foundation and the basis — is having good people around you. The DeVos family is about that. Alex Martins is about that. And I know Rob Hennigan is about that.
“And so for me, it was a no-brainer that with these gentlemen everything is OK. I’ll stick my neck out for them.”
Howard recently reissued a trade demand to the team and said he has no desire to play in Orlando for the final year of his contract.
Hennigan confirmed a second face-to-face meeting with the All-Star center, describing it mainly as a status meeting to check on his rehabilitation from back surgery, among other things.
Beyond that, he said he wants to keep their conversations private, refusing to say whether he has ruled out having Howard on the roster for training camp.
“One thing we’ll tell our fans is that we’ll continue look at all options to try and improve this team,” he said. “And we’ll continue to build piece by piece (and) brick by brick into something that is sustainable. At the end of the day it’s about putting a group of guys on the floor that want to be coached by Jacque, who want to be led by Jacque and represent the values and attributes that our fan base can really rally around.”
Vaughn singled out Roy Williams, his coach at Kansas University, former Utah coach Jerry Sloan and Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich as the mentors who’ve had the most influence on his coaching pursuit. He considered the career after “my knees and ankles started hurting” toward the end of his playing days.
“You get a little smarter then,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn won a title with the Spurs as a player in 2007, when Hennigan was working in the Spurs’ front office. The two forged a relationship and landed him on Hennigan’s radar during the recent coaching search.
After an initial interview, he met with Magic owner Rich DeVos and 13 other members of the DeVos family about 10 days ago. Team president Dan DeVos described it as “more of a conversation.”
Martins said Vaughn’s experience in a championship atmosphere and being around so many championship-caliber coaches helped push him over the top. It’s why he said he doesn’t feel like the Magic are taking a gamble replacing Van Gundy, who had one of the most successful runs in franchise history, with a first-time coach.
“I don’t feel like we’re sticking our neck out at all,” Martins said. “I think he is clearly prepared for this opportunity. He’s the right person for this moment in our history.”
Vaughn said he hasn’t yet spoken with Howard, but that he isn’t just focused on Howard.
“I don’t have a relationship,” he said. “For me going forward, I just looking forward to the opportunity of communicating with every Magic player.”
Magic forward Glen Davis attended the news conference Monday and said he “had some chills” listening to his new coach.
As far expectations and the challenges ahead, Vaughn said he plans to take them as they come.
“Would my resume look a little nicer if it said 14 years of experience? Maybe so,” Vaughn said. “But I’ve sat in the seats that the guy I will coach have sat in. I’ll be able to relate to their personal, physical, mental stresses that they come across everyday because I’ve been there. I think they’ll relate to that and they’ll appreciate that, and they’ll know that I’m fighting for them and I believe in them.”