After weeks of speculation that Orlando Magic head coach Jacque Vaugn could be on his way out soon, his firing finally became official today. The Magic have failed to live up to even the most modest of expectations, sitting at just 15-37 this season and things have been particularly rough as of late, as they have lost 10 straight games after last night’s 110-103 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
Magic assistant coach Jim Borrego is going to take over for Vaughn on an interim basis.
Vaughn, who the Magic hired three years ago from the aforementioned Spurs, took over the Magic at the beginning of a massive rebuilding period. He tried to be a part of the pitch to keep then All-Star center Dwight Howard in town, but Howard’s mind was made up long before Vaughn was hired. He was ready to leave, and Vaughn inherited a team poised to fall out of the playoff picture with his departure.
The Magic brought in a lot of young talent, giving Vaughn a window to grow with the team as a head coach without any serious expectations. The team went a combined 43-131 in his first two years at the helm, with a three-win increase last year from a 20-win campaign during his head coaching debut.
This year, though, with a cornerstone center in Nikola Vucevic, an offensively gifted combo forward in Tobias Harris and a backcourt with two lottery picks in Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, the Magic were at least hoping to see signs of progression towards becoming a playoff team. A trip to the lottery wouldn’t have cost Vaughn his job alone, but in an Eastern Conference where 21-27 is good enough for the seventh and eighth seed, they simply wanted to be competitive enough to be in the mix for that. Yet, they weren’t, and proof that Vaughn didn’t have the ears of his locker room stacked up at an alarming rate.
Whether it was Payton’s call for the Magic to start playing up-tempo both offensively and defensively during their last winning streak, or internal rumblings about why certain guys like Maurice Harkless aren’t playing, a real disconnect between Vaughn and his players was evident. He wasn’t getting through to him like he needed to, and they didn’t believe in him enough to warrant staying the course.
Enter Borrego, another product in the long line of Spurs head coach Gregg Popivich’s disciples. He spent seven seasons with the Spurs from 2003-10 before becoming an assistant in New Orleans for the past two seasons. This was his first season in Orlando and now the University of San Diego alumni is the head shot caller on the sidelines. Along with Vaughn, the Magic also fired assistants Wes Unseld Jr., Brett Gunning and Zack Guthrie.
As bright of a head coaching prospect as Borrego is, the Magic didn’t let Vaugh go midseason in order to give him a shot to win the job long-term. According to Wojnarowski, veteran NBA head coach Scott Skiles is the heavy favorite to take over the team full-time, potentially as soon as post All-Star.
Skiles has a career coaching record of 433-433 after stints with the Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls and most recently the Milwaukee Bucks. He’s been out of the league since the 2012-13 season, when he was fired 16 games into the year after a 31-35 mark the year prior.
Skiles is known for being defensive and disciplined oriented. He’s a familiar face in Orlando as his most successful playing days were with the Magic. Skiles still holds the single-game assists record with 30, a feat that he accomplished as a member of the Magic back in 1990.
While Skiles is hard on his players, he does have a track record for connecting with them better than Vaughn was able to. He finished with .500+ record six times in his career despite never having a team overflowing with immense talent. He should be able to step in right away and be able to make some tweaks that make the Magic noticeably better from the start.
Given his time away from the game and his inability to catch on elsewhere as a head coach since, look for the negotiations between Skiles and the Magic to be fairly straight forward and simple. They want him and he wants to be there because this could be his last opportunity to be a head coach in the NBA. It could also be his best opportunity, as there are some really nice pieces in Orlando and the team has ample financial flexibility moving forward. They just need the right guy to guide them, and Skiles has proven that he knows how to win in the NBA. For him, it’s just about getting a cautious Magic locker room to buy into his system after a tumultuous stint under Vaughn in which the trust was definitely damaged.
Another name that has been mentioned in association with the Magic is former Warriors head coach Mark Jackson. Former Kings head coach Mike Malone, who was the first coach to be fired this year, was interviewed by the Magic before they hired Vaughn. He could be a possible candidate this time around as well if they decide Skiles isn’t the direction they want to go in.
As for Vaughn, he will always have a home in San Antonio, where he is beloved by Popovich. However, he could take some time off to reflect and learn from his struggles with the Magic since he will be paid through next season. He will likely have to work his way back up as an assistant in order to become a head coach again.
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