Shortly after being introduced as the new head coach of the Orlando Magic on Monday, Jacque Vaughn shared what he felt was the best piece of advice he received in the days leading up to him accepting his first head-coaching job.
Get good people around you, the 37-year-old former NBA point guard Vaughn said. Its as simple as that.
Wise words, indeed, from the nameless mentor. But hopefully whoever provided that sage wisdom also added a good luck and a firm pat on the back on the end, because more so than putting good people around him thats what Vaughn really going to need as he tries to right the Magics foundering ship.
Its not that Vaughn, who played 12 years in the league with five different teams, including one season with his new employer, isnt the right man for the job. No, its quite the contrary as Orlando looks to move on from the highly successful, yet emotionally challenging Stan Van Gundy era.
On the court, Vaughn was always smarter than he was talented which makes it all that much more amazing that he lasted more than a decade in the NBA and he has long been considered the type of discerning player who would one day lead a team of his own into battle.
Vaughn has played under some of basketballs most legendary coaches at various points in his career, absorbing knowledge from the likes of Roy Williams at Kansas University, Jerry Sloan with the Utah Jazz and Doc Rivers during his 80-game stint with the Magic.
And though hes only had two years to refine his coaching chops while wearing a tie on the bench in place of a jersey, Vaughn has done it under arguably the best mentor available, Gregg Popovich.
When new Magic general manager Rob Hennigan and CEO Alex Martins described their ideal coach after Hennigan was hired in June, they essentially described Vaughn a youthful former player with championship experience and the ability to relate to his roster better, perhaps, than the likes of Van Gundy.
So by all accounts, there wasnt another candidate who fit that mold better than Vaughn, regardless of what crusty ol Shaq has to say about the move.
The problem is more that, no matter what Vaughns Magic team looks like come their season opener on Nov. 2 against Denver, it wont likely be pretty, and churning some beautiful basketball out of his mishmash of players wont be easy.
Vaughn has inherited challenges that very few coaches would have the nerve to take on, and even the best leaders in basketball might not be cut out to handle whats going on in Orlando right now. So its both a credit to his bravery and a question of his sanity that he agreed to the task.
Things are as uncertain as ever in Central Florida, but it should all be cleared up soon enough, and essentially, there are two scenarios in play for Vaughn when it comes to his team.
The first is a roster without Dwight Howard on it. Orlandos superstar center has been a source of endless drama over the better part of the last year, and by all accounts, he wants out. Orlando has tried to trade Howard, and even shown a willingness to send him to the team of his choosing.
Thus far, the Magic have yet to find an offer that they find reasonable, but once they do, its assumed Howard will be shipped out. And when that happens, regardless of what Orlando gets back in return, it wont be equal value.
In this situation, Vaughn is looking, at best, at a roster filled with role players and young talent and a few draft picks and roster flexibility in the future, and rarely does that equate to success in the short term.
Should Howard be traded, the Magic will officially be in rebuilding mode, and Vaughns priorities will shift from being a championship-contending coach to a guy just trying to ride out the storm.
Theres still a level of success that wants to be achieved, Vaughn said Monday, seeming to concede that hes not expecting perfection right from the start. To me success is each and every day my team getting better, better as individuals, better as players. So for me that will be the goal going forward, and that will be the mark of success.
The other option for Vaughn would be a team with Dwight Howard still on it, though presumably only until Marchs trade deadline or next Julys free agency period, as Howard has still not given any reason to think hed stick around as a free agent beyond then.
This roster would unquestionably be more talented than one without him adding the leagues best center into the fold will have that kind of effect and Howard, for all the villainy hes been accused of, has never been the type of give a half-hearted effort. Hell play as hard as he can for the Magic until hes no longer a member of the Magic.
The problem is more one of the noxious environment Howard may create in the Magic locker room. Howards divisiveness last season led to a disastrous locker room atmosphere, and after a summer filled with reports of Howards contempt for his current situation, its hard to see his presence being a catalyst for winning basketball.
So, essentially, Vaughn is left with a no-win situation, which is a shame for a deserving candidate just trying to make a name for himself in the coaching fraternity. Either he inherits a team without the star power to compete, or one with a disgruntled star who may take the team down with him and either way, its not ideal.
But Vaughn isnt letting Orlandos uncertain future it worry him for now.
I talked to someone earlier and I told them, Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape, Vaughn said. I believe in Rob and his ability to get good players around me. I want people who want to be coached, who want to compete, who want to be great. Im pretty easy.
Its a good thing hes so easy, because the job wont be. But maybe, just maybe, if he gets the right people around him, Vaughn and the Magic can eventually find success again.
You can follow Sam Gardner on Twitter or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.