Orlando Magic: 6 Challenges for Jacque Vaughn, Other Coach Replacement
The Magic are a team in disarray, make no mistake.
Changes needed to occur, and they did. Out went general manager Otis Smith, a former Magic inaugural team shooting guard. Out went the coach with the best winning percentage in all-time Magic history, Stan Van Gundy, who we'll talk about later. Out went Ryan Anderson.
And Dwight Howard is on his way out, too.
The new coach, whether it be Jacque Vaughn, as Hoopsworld's Alex Kennedy had said via his Twitter account it would be just about a week ago before this latest news had officially broken, or any other candidate, that person is going to face immense challenges and will be criticized from day one.
It is going to take a special man to coach a rebuilding Magic team, though the fan base is more patient than, well, let's say those fans in the Big Apple making all the noise on NBA Draft nights.
Either way, I don't envy Vaughn, should it be he or anyone else, at all. We're going to look at the six biggest and most insurmountable tasks for the new Magic head coach in this slideshow.
1. Incorporate a Flexible Offense That Can Thrive with or Without Howard
One problem for the Magic over the past few seasons has been that the offense has been too predictable. It got them to the Finals in 2009, but also lost them the Finals.
The team at that time had enough weapons and versatility to beat the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals, but had no answers for what to do in the Finals when Pau Gasol made Dwight Howard look like the inexperienced center he was at the time.
The Magic must find a way to move past that and develop something other than Stan Van Gundy's "Stretch 4" philosophy, which indicated he left his power forward out behind the arc to launch threes. This resulted in Dwight Howard manning the post and four shooters occupying spots on the arc. Last year, that man was Ryan Anderson, who led the NBA in threes made and attempted, unsurprisingly.
The Magic's free agent acquisitions even reflected it. What other team wanted Quentin Richardson after he was traded four times in one summer? The Magic, because he could shoot the ball and do nothing else.
In order to become a championship team, Jacque Vaughn, or any other potential coach, is going to have to learn to develop an offense that can change with the times, and be effective when Dwight Howard is shut down. Or, more to the point, when Dwight Howard is no longer on the Magic.
Stan Van Gundy was fired for a reason, and his lack of versatility in offensive coaching schemes was a large part of it. Having met Van Gundy, I can assure you he is spending countless hours rehashing these errors right now in his head from his home. He won't even get over it when he gets a new coaching job.
Everyone on the team, and even the fans, realized he needed to change with the times and with the teams, but he did not.
2. Develop Young Talent (or Lack Thereof)
Develop young talent: Earl Clark, J.J. Redick, Andrew Nicholson, Daniel Orton, Justin Harper, DeAndre Liggins and Gustavo Ayon.
This is a bit of a farce, or even a stretch, but the Magic have to develop the young talent that they do have.
Why is this a stretch? Because there isn't much of it.
The Magic simply do not have the prospects it takes to build a new team, which is, of course, what makes this entire Dwight Howard deal so important to begin with. The Magic don't have any extra draft picks coming up, and their current "young players" (not even all of their young guys are truly young) are simply not the kind of players that can eventually form a contending team.
Let's look at each one briefly:
Clark is goofy, flat out. He's athletic, can play great defensive man-to-man when his head is in the game and he occasionally makes an outstanding offensive play—a highlight almost worthy of ESPN, if not during garbage time.
Redick isn't young, but he's one of the better players the Magic have who is about to enter his prime.
Will his prime be that great? Sure, I guess, if you want to say that being a fringe starter is great. But, one thing he does have that the rest of these guys don't have is potential trade value. More on that later.
I've seen and heard nothing but good things. But, I have also heard he is a shooting power forward, drafted in mind with the concept of replacing the traded Ryan Anderson.
They didn't re-sign him yet for a reason. He has proven nothing other than the fact that it's amazing he was once considered a real lottery pick talent.
Consider the fact that he told me his knee wasn't injured when he was listed in the media guide as "Injury -- Knee." (Video Above)
I guess he can really shoot and is compared to Rashard Lewis, but he never played at all last year. Lewis was putting up decent numbers as a rookie right out of high school.
I hate when people take a poor man's version of someone and compare him to the actual thing, but I have probably read too many NBA Draft prospect sites where they get paid to do that.
I have no idea what he is capable other than making a lot of noise in the locker room and acting crazy so that we can't hear the players we are actually trying to speak with.
Ayon has the second-best value here next to only J.J. Redick, but he is also a 27 years old second-year player. The fact he is of Latino heritage in a city like Orlando does not hurt at all either. There will be people donning Ayon jerseys.
He can block shots, play defense, work and play extremely hard. The sad part, however, is that Rob Hennigan traded the NBA's Most Improved Player, Ryan Anderson, after a huge breakout year, to obtain Ayon.
But, that isn't Ayon's fault. He's a good player, and hopefully Magic fans give him a chance.
3. Play Much Better Help-Side Defense
The defense is good for one reason only. But, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year center is about to leave the team.
They have to adjust and find a way to cover players on the perimeter and keep them from getting to the basket, because Dwight Howard will not be there to block the shots anymore.
Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, Quentin Richardson, Chris Duhon, Hedo Turkoglu and the ghost of Gilbert Arenas can and could not keep guys from getting to the basket. I'm not sure Arenas could handle a pick up game against a group of 50 year old men, and that's why he is getting paid not to play for the Orlando Magic.
Arenas is so bad they'd rather pay two-thirds his salary than hope he could be somewhat productive. It's hard to feel sorry for multimillionaires, but that doesn't mean it's not hilarious if looked at in the proper context. This is a digression to be sure, but it must be remembered that former GM Otis Smith dug a hole.
Without Howard, the Magic's defense would be even more Swiss cheese-like than the Golden State Warriors. Teams just pick the Magic's perimeter guys apart.
Richardson used to be a pretty good defender, but his knees don't bend much anymore when playing man-to-man defense. Redick is an average defender, despite it once being his weakness.
But, the rest of the Magic perimeter defense features some of the worst lateral foot speed and footwork fundamentals in the entire NBA.
#4 Win over the Fans
The fans, or at least the majority of them, loved Stan Van Gundy. He had T-shirts designed in his honor, animated games on the Orlando Sentinel where you could dress him up in weird outfits and strange yet belly laugh inducing NBA memes comparing him to porn star Ron Jeremy—you name it.
He was also hilarious, and came up with some of the most bizarre statements ever. He loved to criticize referees, donate the fine to charity as the NBA does and get that stuff off his chest.
I highly doubt the new coach, even if Jacque Vaughn is a great guy, or any of the other candidates, will be able to win the fans over and replace the personality that was Stan the Man. Maybe they will carve their own niche, but some shoes just aren't meant to be filled.
5. Attract Star Players
The new coach must make star players want to come here. It's a beautiful city, the Arena is one of the best in the league, the fan base is committed and loyal and there is no state tax.
Dwight Howard is crazy for leaving, but someone else will come and be the new marquee name. The new coach must be the kind of coach that makes others want to come join him. Doc Rivers, Tom Thibedeau and Mark Jackson—these are the guys I am talking about.
Ironically, Rivers was here in Orlando but wasn't given the due respect by management needed to keep an elite coach and formerly great point guard in town.
Guys want to play for ex-players like Mark Jackson, an all-time point guard great for high ball distribution, Doc Rivers, an Atlanta Hawks icon and great guard in his own right, and Tom Thibedeau, the mind behind the aforementioned Rivers' defensive schemes.
For all that Stan Van Gundy was, he was demanding and at times over bearing on his players. That had a lot to do with why Dwight Howard was rumored to have wanted him fired, whether it was true or not.
Stan stood by Dwight, but Dwight just wasn't mature enough to realize that a coach who called him an eventual future Hall of Famer didn't have his best interests at heart. To NBA general managers and owners alike, the players come before the coaches, sadly.
Celtics legendary coach Red Auerbach is likely spinning in his grave. Even Bill Russell didn't have an ego that prevented him from being taught by his coach, like Howard does. Times change; people change.
6. Maximize Trade Value of Current Roster
The Magic just don't have a lot of guys with value. Hedo Turkoglu is signed through the 2013-2014 season because he has a player option that he is sure to pick up. And, it pays his $12.2 million.
Jameer Nelson is a fair point guard, but would any contending team want to start him? Jason Richardson has two more seasons, and the Magic want to dump him too, as he is owed $6.2 million in 2013-2014. Duhon has two more years at almost $4 million per season.
Simply, they have too many players other teams do not want, and they gave the ones they had away for nothing (see: Marcin Gortat and Ryan Anderson).
They must find a way to get some value for J.J. Redick, as he is a good player and an expiring contract. Ayon is a huge bargain, as he is owed $1.5 million over this season and the next and is only 27.
Rob Hennigan seems high on Yon anyway. Nelson could probably net something of value, but would have to play out of his mind as he did in the first half of 2008-09.
Does anyone else have value?
Almost hardly. Glen Davis played well in the 2012 Playoffs against Roy Hibbert and the Pacers, but it was more about Hibbert being bad than Davis being good, in my opinion.
Hibbert still has a lot to figure out on defense. Davis would net about what he did originally in the trade with Boston, a Brandon Bass-caliber player, a guy who plays well at some times and, at other times, disappears.
That's what you get for mid-level exception type guys, usually—especially if they are big men. This was fairly obvious by the fact Bass and Davis both showed up big for only small stretches (ironically both did so in crucial playoff games).
Duhon is a Duke diploma revocation away from being in the D-league. Earl Clark is rawer than an onion before it is off the root. Nicholson is an unproven rookie, while Justin Harper may as well be.
How can a team improve with almost no trade chips other than Dwight Howard?
The answer is simple. Get a boatload in return for Howard.
Keep working those lines, Mr. Hennigan, if you don't mind me giving you a mister in front of your name when you are the same age as me.
Conclusion: the Magic Will Be Back Soon Enough
The Magic will likely lose Dwight Howard, let's not beat around the bush.
They will have to rebuild.
But, the fact remains that they have a committed fan base that has supported the team since its inaugural season in 1989—and they will continue to do so. It's a one-team city and, no matter who the Magic suit up, "They have built it, They will come..."
Simply put, the Amway Center is a work of art. Players will want to play in it, coaches will want to coach in it and the fans love to attend games in it. A lot of people don't consider that players like new facilities.
Who wants to walk out of the shower onto a concrete floor with a noticeable odor, like in the former Amway Arena, which has now fallen to dust?
Teams come back, and the Magic just hope to do it quickly, that's all. Rich DeVos is approaching the end of his long life, and he wants to see the team win. Unfortunately, Dwight Howard just didn't and doesn't care.
Until they land another franchise player, things will be rough, but they recovered after Shaquille O'Neal left in 1995. They will recover after Dwight Howard leaves in 2012-2013. It's not the L.A. Clippers we are talking about here and, heck, even the Clippers eventually have emerged out of the basketball abyss here.
Magic fans, there is always reason for hope.