No one knew at the time but when Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard was public dismissing then head coach Stan Van Gundy, he was paving the way for 37-year-old Jacque Vaughn.
Vaughn, having spent the last two season as an assistant coach under the tutelage of Gregg Popovich, drew first-round interviews with Orlando along with Michael Malone, Brian Shaw and Quin Snyder.
General manager Rob Hennigan, with experience in the Spurs organization as an intern, eventually whittled it down to Vaughn. Despite his inexperience, Vaughn is a strong personality who won’t waver in the face of a daunting rebuilding project.
Orlando essentially rebooted the franchise this offseason, flipping perimeter sniper and last years Most Improved Ryan Anderson, drafting big men Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn and, of course, trading franchise centerpiece Howard. To maintain continuity, Orlando re-signed guards Jameer Nelson and Ish Smith.
To reiterate: The frontcourt duo of Anderson and Howard, with their perfectly complemented skill sets, is gone. Veterans Chris Duhon and Jason Richardson are also gone. In their places will be a mismatch of veterans and unproven rookies. The team, in their current state, is likely closer to the Charlotte Bobcats than the playoffs.
Arron Afflalo, Christian Eyenga, Al Harrington, Josh McRoberts, Nikola Vucevic and Philadelphia 2012 first-round pick Moe Harkless were acquired in the massive four-team blockbuster for Howard.
Second-year center Gustavo Ayon, with a knack for finding open space in the interior, was acquired in the Anderson sign-and-trade. FC Barcelona Regal purchased his rights from Mexican squad Fuenlabrada but Ayon intends to stay in the NBA for the foreseeable future.
Ultimately, this team is a work and progress. Which might be an understatement.
But it isn’t anything that Vaughn, the youngest head coach in the league, can’t handle. He can thank Gregg Popovich and Dwight Howard for the opportunity.
Popovich on Vaughn: Popovich didn’t really think much of Vaughn as a player. As a head coach, though, his opinion quickly changes.
“Jacque Vaughn is a star. You can see the same qualities in him that you saw in Avery [Johnson],” Popovich told the San Antonio Express-News, referring to former Spur point guard Avery Johnson, now coach of the Brooklyn Nets.
“It was evident everyone on the team looked up to him and respected him, even though he wasn’t the most talented player. He was always on my list as someone we wanted back when he was done playing.”
Curry or Brown? Yesterday Popovich hinted that the final roster spot would be between forward Derrick Brown and center Eddy Curry. Curry got the nod against the Miami Heat, scoring nine points in seven minutes. Brown did not play though his chance may come today. Powell, meanwhile, earned 16 minutes — most of which came in the fourth quarter.
Where to watch: The game will be shown on NBA TV at 5:00 p.m. CST. It will also air on stations 1200 WOAI and 1350 KCOR in Spanish.
Injury report: Patty Mills missed his fourth consecutive game with a right ankle sprain. He hasn’t played since Oct. 6 against Siena. His availability is unknown.
Afflalo (strained left hamstring) is ruled out for today’s game.