NEW YORK (AP) — Jacque Vaughn knew when he moved into Steve Nash’s seat that he might just be keeping it warm for Ime Udoka.
The Brooklyn Nets were expected to hire the suspended Boston Celtics coach for their job, maybe after Vaughn had it only for a game. Instead, the Nets decided Wednesday to give the job to Vaughn.
“I guess I was, what is that, the write-in candidate in the minds of the elections right now, but I’m OK with that,” Vaughn joked. “I said to my wife, I might have not been her first choice and we’ve been together 20 years, so it can all work out. So, off we go.”
Vaughn had gone 2-2 as acting coach since the Nets and Nash parted ways on Nov. 1. His first game as the head coach was a 112-85 rout of the New York Knicks on Wednesday night.
“I know the work that he puts in every day,” Nets star Kevin Durant said. “I know how much he cares about the development of each player and this team as a whole, and looking forward to playing for him. All the guys have responded to how he wants us to play.”
That response led general manager Sean Marks to believe that the right candidate was already in Brooklyn.
“Over the course of this last week, these last sort of four games, it became evident that we didn’t need to look elsewhere,” Marks said.
Still, it was believed that they would, and maybe even already had.
After moving on from Nash, the Nets had discussions with Udoka, who along with Vaughn had been a Nets assistant before taking the Boston job. He led the Celtics to last season’s NBA Finals but was suspended for at least this season for violating team rules by having a relationship with a female staffer within the organization.
But the Nets decided not to go that route, perhaps unwilling to take on more negative attention while dealing with the fallout from Kyrie Irving’s decision to post a link to a film with antisemitic material on his Twitter page.
Marks said it wasn’t appropriate to discuss who the other candidates were in a coaching search.
“Like all other searches, all I can tell you is there was an exhaustive search and we went through candidates and we’ll leave it at that,” Marks said.
Irving served the fourth game of what will be at least a five-game suspension without pay on Wednesday that the team gave him for refusing to say he had no antisemitic beliefs. There were a group of protesters outside Barclays Center chanting about the time Marks was speaking.
Marks said he hasn’t spoken to Irving, only to his representatives. Neither has Vaughn, but perhaps he will try.
“I thought in the capacity that I was serving it wasn’t my place to,” Vaughn said. “I’ve always understood my boundaries as an assistant coach. That could change going forward in the position that I’m in now.”
Vaughn is in his seventh season as a Nets assistant. He replaced Kenny Atkinson on an interim basis in March 2020, just before the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, and coached Brooklyn during the season restart in Walt Disney World.
Vaughn went 7-3 in 10 games and led the Nets to the first round of the playoffs, even though they were without the injured Durant and Irving, as well as other key players who didn’t join them for the restart.
The Nets then hired Nash, even though he had no coaching experience, and kept Vaughn as an assistant. Nash led Brooklyn to the playoffs in each of his two full seasons, but the team made a change after getting off to a 2-5 start.
Marks said that move was made because the Nets weren’t playing up to their expectations, but they have shown improvement under Vaughn. After losing at home to Chicago in the first game, Brooklyn won road games in Washington and Charlotte on back-to-back nights before a 96-94 loss in Dallas on Monday.
Vaughn went 58-158 with the Orlando Magic from 2012-15 in his lone previous coaching stint.
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