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Jacque Vaughn understands he’ll need close ties with KD, Kyrie if he wants to succeed

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Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Jacque Vaughn said Saturday he isn’t going to change who he is as he tries out for the Nets head coaching job. Take it or leave it. WYSIWYG. He’s not changing.

But he also understands he’ll have to grow what he sees as already a good relationship with the the team’s superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. That’s no concession, he says. It’s reality and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a head coach needs to have such relationships. Drawing on his experience as a journeyman on pretty good teams with pretty good players, Vaughn ticked off some examples.

“Whether it was John Stockton and Karl Malone with Jerry Sloan. Whether it was Jason Kidd with Lawrence Frank. Whether it was Tracy McGrady with Doc Rivers. Whether it was Tim Duncan with Gregg Popovich,” Vaughn told reporters on the Nets media Zoom call. “So it belongs in our league, and I think it’s more welcomed. The climate these days of being able to give guys autonomy, a sense of belonging, of competence.”

Moreover, the man seen as a — if not the — front runner for the big job said his relationship with the two isn’t just about basketball.

“My conversations with those guys are generally based around me checking in to see how they’re doing,” said Vaughn. ”Some of those conversations lead into basketball, some of those conversations lead into life conversations, some of those conversations might lead into, ‘I have a podcast for you to listen to.’ So it ranges. For me, it’s more of the connection knowing that I’m thinking about them.”

Vaughn said he recently recommended Nikole Hannah-Jones’ “1619” podcast to Durant. (Vaughn said he’s currently reading “How to be an Anti-Racist” by Ibram X. Kendi.)

Asked to provide an example of how, as Sean Marks said, KD and Irving could be “brutally honest,” Vaughn cited how Durant offered specific thoughts on a broken defensive play he thought indicated a more general problem.

“In a film session that included Ky and Kevin, there was a clip and Kevin was more than welcome to point out if we want to be a championship team going forward, there’s a standard you have to have on this type of defensive play. That input is welcomed for me as a coach. Completely comfortable with that conversation, and want that conversation.”

In general, though, Vaughn said at this point in his career he is who is and expects he’ll be evaluated on that more than anything.

“I’m going to be me, and I think that’s the best thing. Just be yourself: Do simple better. I’m not going to overcomplicate this thing,” Vaughn said. “My relationship with guys on this roster [must] have some foundation, some standing.

“My approach is the same every day: I try to be as consistent as possible. Anxiety can be extremely contagious, but so can calm, and so my relationship with guys, I’ll lean on that. Nothing for me to prove. I’ve grown as a coach, love the challenge of coaching, and want the challenge of coaching going forward here.”

Vaughn was 2-0 when the season was shuttered back in March, with wins over the lowly Bulls and the Western Conference-leading Lakers, arguably the best win of the season ... up to that point. Of course, in his first head coaching job with the Magic, Vaughn was 58-158.

Sandwiched around those days in Orlando, Vaughn worked with Sean Marks in San Antonio, overlapping first in 2011 when Vaughn was an assistant coach and Marks a neophyte basketball operations assistant. Then, after the Magic dumped Vaughn in 2015, it was back to the Spurs, this time as a pro scout. By that point, Marks had moved up the ladder to the assistant GM job. Marks then recommended Vaughn to Atkinson.

Vaughn already has won the public praise of the Nets third best player.

“[Vaughn] knows a lot about the game, a lot about the league in general, knows a lot about winning and what it takes to win,” Caris LeVert said. “He’s played in the Finals, played on a really good Jazz team, so he knows what it takes to get there.

“It’s good to be around a winning type of coach every day. And definitely has my best interest on the court. He tells the truth every day, that’s all I ask for, so definitely a good goal to work with him every day.”

In talking about what he has seen so far from his players, who will fly to Orlando, on Tuesday, Vaughn noted that that half of the team who stayed in Brooklyn is in better physical condition than those who went home. He specifically referenced Garrett Temple, Joe Harris, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Dzanan Musa. Vaughn specifically mentioned TLC and praised his defensive commitment and added that new Net Tyler Johnson could fit in at a couple of positions.

Vaughn said all his players have been through“trauma” but believes the “bubble” will enhance the their mental well-being. Just the ability to “touch each other” will go a long way to getting them through it all, he added.

Also, he told reporters that the Nets are likely to sign a big man to replace DeAndre Jordan who opted out after testing positive for coronavirus. He noted the Nets will need all the bodies they can get, adding that he spoke with Marks Saturday morning about addressing the Nets lack of size.

“Overall, we have to have as many bodies as possible going into Orlando,” Vaughn said. “We have eight games in 14 days, so the demand on our athletes, the more available bodies we have the better off we’ll be for sure.

“We have to definitely think about that,” Vaughn said. “Sean and I talked this morning on a call and we talked about addressing our size and not putting extra demand on Jarrett. So that could definitely be a route we take for sure.”