Coaching is not just what you can see: the rotation, the x’s and o’s. It’s often more about what you can’t: player development, managing up as well as down and player interaction.
For Jacque Vaughn and Ben Simmons, that last piece was a mess at the end of last year. There was no trust. An exasperated coach talked publicly about how frustrated he was with the player who had his own frustrations with not being able to perform through pain. And not everyone on the Nets believed his issues were purely physical.
As Marc J. Spears, who’s written about Simmons extensively this year, recounts, the trust building process was long and difficult but in the end it worked.
“I thought it was important for me to reestablish our relationship from the way it was introduced,” Vaughn said. “It was during a pretty tumultuous season with expectation, trauma and chaos, and we both were involved in it. And for me to hopefully let him know that [there were] no hard feelings my way. I was trying to set a standard for the program and that’s my responsibility as a coach and to let him know what my expectations were for him going forward and that I am pulling for him at the same time.”
“It was tough. I was also injured, so I was also dealing with my own stuff and he was in a position where it’s a lot of pressure to come in and be the head coach,” Simmons said. “You still got expectations to help his team win. So, then there was just a lot of uncertainty.”
One trust-building measure came early in Simmons five month long rehab when Vaughn suggested the Nets let Simmons train in Miami, as Spears wrote...
After years of going to Los Angeles, the Nets wanted Simmons to spend most of this past offseason rehabilitating in Brooklyn, New York, at the team facility. Simmons, however, preferred to go to Miami instead where he could work out five to six hours a day and spend his off time fishing, being on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean and enjoying Miami culture, which reminds him of his beloved Australia. After Vaughn convinced the Nets’ brass to allow Simmons to go where he was most comfortable, Simmons went to Miami.
Vaughn also visited Simmons in Miami three times during his rehab. It was important, Vaughn said, to meet not on his turf but on Simmons.
“It’s important for me not to invite him to my house or say, ‘let’s meet on my turf,’ ” Vaughn said. “I went down to where he was spending time and where was home for him that offseason. And so, I hope he took that as a sign of me really checking on him.”
“Once he saw me in Miami and where I was able to get back to, he was happy. That’s where our relationship started to grow. He had trust in me. He came down saw the work,” Simmons said.
The visits had another purpose: to judge just where was mentally. Sean Marks accompanied Vaughn. That made the head coach and GM comfortable.
“I saw him doing the work, and so when you see an individual actually do the work in the offseason when no one else is watching, those things mean something to me.”
Before he missed the Nets win over LA with hip soreness — he’ll miss Friday’s game as well — Simmons was indeed playing well. As Spears notes, Simmons ranks in the top 15 in the NBA in rebounds (10.8) and assists (6.7). While he is only attempting six shots per game, his field goal percentage is 56%. So far so good.
For Marks, as Simmons goes, so goes the Nets.
“You could see how he was moving last season. That wasn’t him. That was depressing for him. He was like, ‘I want to contribute but I can’t,’ ” Marks told Andscape. “The thing for us was to be supportive of him and not be too quick to judge when he was sitting there. I don’t know what he was going through. The last year in Philly was tough. The injuries were tough.
“If Ben can be Ben, [there is] no telling how far we can go. He’s definitely the engine that drives us,”
- Brooklyn Nets guard Ben Simmons, coach Jacque Vaughn reestablishing their relationship - Marc J. Spears - Andscape