Orlando Magic fire coach Jacque Vaughn

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Orlando went into the post Dwight Howard rebuilding process trying to do what a lot of franchises have done: Build a San Antonio Spurs style franchise.

To lead that effort they went out and picked Jacque Vaughn off the Gregg Popovich coaching tree and told him to develop the young players and build a culture of winning. That master plan may have only worked in Atlanta. It certainly hasn’t worked in Orlando. The Magic entered this season expecting steps forward and maybe a playoff spot this season. Instead they have lost 10 straight, are 15-37 on the season and are out of the playoff conversation even at the bottom of the lowly East.

After three seasons with Vaughn, Orlando’s management has grown impatient, which led to leaks that helped make Vaughn look like a dead coach walking.

Finally on Thursday the ax fell, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

It has now been confirmed by the Magic.

“Jacque (Vaughn) has been a trusted friend and colleague,” Orlando GM Rob Hennigan said in a released statement. “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.”

Rumored long-term replacements for Vaughn have been Scott Skiles and Mark Jackson, although there will be an interim coach before anyone else settles into the big chair.

However, he is the only holdover from Vaughn’s staff.

Look for a new coach to be named during the All-Star break when he can get in some practices. Also, look for the Magic to eye more of a disciplinarian coach, one less “player friendly” than Vaughn.

The timing of this move is not a coincidence. In-season firings often happen before an easy stretch in the schedule, and the Magic are coming up on one (the Lakers, Knicks, and Sixers among opponents soon). It helps the new coach get off on the right foot.

The Magic roster has some nice young pieces, and Vaughn deserves some credit for helping develop guys like Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, and rookie Elfrid Payton. But Vaughn hasn’t been able to turn that individual into growth as a team, and he hasn’t built a culture of defense — they are 25th in defensive rating in the league. He has struggled to use veteran players such as Channing Frye properly, and younger players feel they were not getting consistent minutes.

More than all that, this team has regressed through the course of this season.

The struggles are not all on Vaughn. For one, management’s constant leaks over the past couple weeks about Vaughn have not been all that professional or well handled. It cut the coach off at the knees. The roster construction isn’t great, and Vaughn wasn’t the guy buying the groceries.

But he didn’t do much with what he was given, he had a 26.9 winning percentage over the past two-and-a-half years.

Now that coach is gone, but it is on that management team to pick the right guy to turn these solid pieces into more than just the sum of their parts.

Anthony Davis opens All-Star game wearing DeMarcus Cousins’ jersey

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LOS ANGELES – Anthony Davis often relies on his Pelicans teammates to set him up.

Tonight, he gave a nod to one of them.

Davis started the All-Star game wearing DeMarcus Cousins‘ No. 0 jersey. Cousins and Davis were both voted starters then drafted by LeBron James, but Cousins can’t play due to injury.

Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

Very cool gesture by Davis. He’s an excellent teammate.

No, Joel Embiid didn’t cheat during the NBA Skills Challenge

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The Internet got itself all in a huff on Saturday as they watched the 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend Skills Challenge. In particular, the matchup between Chicago Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen and Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid stirred up a bit of controversy.

Specifically, folks accused Embiid of cheating.

During the passing section of the obstacle course, Embiid didn’t actually make any of his passes into the ring. He then proceeded on the next section and was neck-and-neck with Markkanen as they tried to finish out the head-to-head competition. Markkanen won, but that didn’t stop folks from saying the 76ers All-Star had circumvented the rules.

We now know that’s not true.

According to the rules (provided on the NBA media site, page 47 of the 2018 NBA All-Star Media Guide) Embiid was allowed to move onto the next section even though he hadn’t completed any of his passes. A player only has to exhaust the rack, not complete a pass. It appears rules sort of assume that if a player stands there trying to complete a pass three times they’ll fall so far behind they won’t be able to catch up.

Re-watching the video, it appears Embiid knew this rule to the game and figured if he didn’t make the first one he would quickly try to blast the next two passes off the rack so he could then move onto the next section.

Embiid even took to Twitter to head off accusations that he had cheated.

Via Twitter:

Trust. The. Process.

Rumor: Jeff Hornacek shoved Joakim Noah during confrontation

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The saga between the New York Knicks and Joakim Noah has been ongoing for sometime, with the latest story being that there was some kind of verbal altercation between the former All-Star big man and head coach Jeff Hornacek.

Noah has not played for the team since Jan. 23, and he is now separated from the Knicks as they try to find a solution to shed him from their roster.

We now have a better idea of what kind of urgency New York has to make that move.

A report from the New York Daily News has given us more information about the confrontation between Noah and Hornacek. The latest addition to the story is that it was not just words between the Knicks coach and Noah, and that Hornacek actually pushed Noah first during the confrontation.

The two then had to be separated.

Via NYDN:

Noah was banished from the Knicks after an altercation with coach Jeff Hornacek during a practice last month. The disagreement stemmed from Noah’s lack of playing time, and it turned physical the day after he logged only five minutes against the Warriors.

While no punches were thrown, the Daily News learned that Hornacek was the first to shove Noah before they had to be separated.

In our last update on this story, Dan outlined how that could be made possible. No team is going to trade for Noah at this juncture in his career, so the only real option for New York is to waive him.

Here’s how that looks, according to our own Dan Feldman:

If the Knicks waive Noah without a buyout, they’d have two options after paying out the rest of his $17,765,000 salary this season:

Pay Noah $18,530,000 next season and $19,295,000 the following season
Pay Noah $7,565,000 each of the following five years via the stretch provision

It just keeps getting weirder and weirder during a lost season in the Big Apple.

Kobe Bryant tells Shaq he was planning to leave Lakers for Bulls (VIDEO)

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Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal got their three championships together as members of the Los Angeles Lakers. The two stars were part of the three-peat team that won in 2000, 2001, and 2002. But the story that perhaps overshadows those accomplishments in the modern era is the story of Kobe vs. Shaq, and the long-standing beef that was between the players even after they split in 2004.

The back-and-forth between the two is part of the fabric not just of the Lakers, but of pop culture as it surrounds basketball. The Shaq/Kobe beef even has it’s own Wikipedia page that’s longer and more well-sourced than most of the papers I wrote in college. It’s impressive.

Meanwhile, Kobe and Shaq sat down in a long special that aired on Saturday as All-Star Weekend ramped up that revealed quite a bit about their time together and their relationship. One of the more interesting anecdotes was Kobe telling Shaq that he was planning on leaving the Lakers for the Chicago Bulls in 2004. That plan was quashed when the team sent O’Neal to the Miami Heat in July.

Via Twitter:

That would have been a major shift for LA and for Chicago. The Bulls drafted both Ben Gordon and Chris Duhon that year, and traded for Luol Deng. The team improved by 24 wins the following season, and adding Bryant may have altered that trajectory and of course sent shockwave of consequential changes through the league. Heck, Scottie Pippen retired that October, but perhaps he would have stayed for one more year with Kobe?

The rest of the interview was interesting, and there were lots of tidbits of information that had people talking. Bryant and O’Neal rehashed their fights, Shaq’s infamous rap dissing Kobe, and mooning Sacramento Kings fans after beating them in the 2002 playoffs.

The biggest takeaway from the interview was how the one-upsmanship between Shaq and Kobe, although subtle, still remains.

As context, Bryant has done a fair bit of career revisionism as he tries to alter his public image now that he’s not a player. He’s painted himself as a “storyteller” and has tried to make his single-mindedness appear praiseworthy rather than destructive. It’s mostly so he can sell shoes well into his 50s à la Michael Jordan.

In the sit down between the two Lakers greats, Shaq did some legacy revision of his own. He played off his continuous egging of Bryant over their careers as simple media manipulation, calling himself a master marketer. It really was a thing to see something that hilariously disingenuous, especially as much of the conversation between the two — including many admissions on each side — were about times they made each other sincerely angry.

The two finished the interview by taking photos next to some championship trophies (Kobe with more, of course) and exchanging laughs and hugs.

You can watch the full interview in the video above.