Author: Kurt Helin

Jacque Vaughn

Orlando Magic fire coach Jacque Vaughn


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.

Five Things We Learned in NBA Wednesday: Russell Westbrook trying to will Thunder into playoffs

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans

If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while checking out mashups of NBA team logos with the Larry O’Brien trophy

1) Russell Westbrook drops 45, trying to will Thunder into playoffs. It’s this simple — Russell Westbrook should be in the conversation when you’re discussing the bottom couple slots of the MVP ballot this season. He missed games at the start of the season, but since his return he has been as good as anyone in the league.

He made his point Wednesday. This home-and-home against the New Orleans Pelicans are not must-wins for the Thunder, but it’s the kind of opportunity that, if blown, would certainly dim OKC’s playoff chances. (They were three games back of Phoenix and two back of New Orleans entering the night.) Then came the news that Kevin Durant couldn’t go Wednesday because of his toe injury. Didn’t matter. Westbrook’s relentless athletic attack went right at the Pelicans from the opening tip — he had 19 points in the first quarter on 8-of-10 shooting. He kept that going all game, including nine points in the fourth quarter to give him 45 for the game and the Thunder the win over the Pelicans on the road. This season Westbrook (once he got healthy) has taken on more of the Oklahoma City offense — he uses 37.6 percent of the team’s possessions when on the court, the highest percentage in the league — and he is scoring 24.9 points a game, dishing out 7.6 assists a night, and on the other end getting 2.3 steals as well. He was too much for the surprisingly weak Pelican’s defense and, if the Thunder can win the rematch Friday, he will have put OKC a lot closer to the playoffs.

2) Once Stephen Curry gets going, all your defensive plans are moot. Dallas likely thought they were going to get the upset on the road when they started the game on a 24-4 run. But like playing baseball in Denver, no lead is safe against the Warriors at Oracle. Golden State’s bench fought back to make it close in the second quarter. Then Stephen Curry started doing Stephen Curry things — he had 26 points in the third quarter on his way to 51 in the game. Golden State got the win, in large part because Curry was hitting heat check shots. This is why Dallas went and got Rajon Rondo, to defend guys like Curry, but on a night like this it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

3) No Dwight Howard means the James Harden show in Houston, and sometimes that’s enough. The question is how far will the current three seed in the West Rockets fall with Howard out for the next month. Wednesday night against Chicago was the kind of game that will be a test for the next month — but they passed this one thanks to James Harden dropping 27 and leading the offense. He looked like an MVP candidate, too, and if you don’t believe me ask Jimmy Butler, who is a superb defender and was made to look awkward by The Beard with this wicked step back.

4) Despite Hassan Whiteside, Miami doing its best to fall out of the playoffs. In the East. Once again Hassan Whiteside was the best thing Miami had going — 24 points on 12-of-13 shooting, plus 20 rebounds, he was a team-best +11 — and yet after the game all you could think was “why didn’t Eric Spoelstra play him even more?” Well, you thought that, and you thought Norris Cole has lost his mind? How do you let this happen with the game on the line?

So Cole, what did happen? (From Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel.)

“I’m not really sure,” Cole said when asked what happened. “They didn’t score off it, so it allowed me to rest my mind a little easier. I’m not sure. I’ll have to look at the film. They didn’t score off of it, so it’s not the reason why we lost the game.”

Bottom line, Miami is now the eight seed, behind Charlotte, and only half a game ahead of Brooklyn, 2.5 up on Detroit. Miami is going to battle for its playoff life the rest of this way.

5) It’s just fun to have Ricky Rubio back in the league. Are you not entertained?!?

Stephen Curry hits 10th three pointer, drops 51 on Mavericks (VIDEO)

Stephen Curry

Dallas opened this game on a 24-4 run and looked like they were going to turn this into a laugher.

Stephen Curry had other plans. The Warriors came back in the second quarter to make it a ballgame, thanks in large part to Marreese Speights and Klay Thompson. Then it was time for the Curry show. Your leading MVP candidate dropped 26 points in the third quarter on his way to 51 on the night, and Golden State picked up another win.

Curry drained 10 threes on the night — the last one you see above — and basically couldn’t miss Wednesday night. Well, unless he got too close to the rim. Check out his shot chart.


Dallas had no answer for Curry (Rajon Rondo wouldn’t have made much of a difference) and that led to a great show.