Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times reported Friday the Nets "almost certainly will be unsuccessful" but noted it's still a potential blockbuster move they're going to explore as they look to transform into a championship contender with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the roster.
Brooklyn promoted Jacque Vaughn, a former Spurs point guard and an assistant under Popovich for two seasons to begin his coaching career, to interim head coach in March after Kenny Atkinson stepped down.
The Nets performed well under his guidance, winning his first two games in charge before the season was halted March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic and going 5-3 in the bubble despite playing without Durant, Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince and Wilson Chandler.
Brooklyn qualified for the playoffs as the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference and will face the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors in the first round beginning Monday.
Vaughn, 45, told Joe Vardon and Alex Schiffer of The Athletic he's trying not to view every game as an on-job audition.
"Not the way I think," he said. "It's the way I've tried to process it to my assistant coaches, also. Let's enjoy this moment right now. If the pandemic has taught us anything, we're so connected and don't take things for granted. Lean into grace and lean into gratitude and enjoy this thing. I really have kept it that simple. I hope the guys have felt that with me in the gym, and our organization, the performance staff, the leadership, all of it."
Shams Charania of The Athletic reported Vaughn will be a "significant candidate" but that the Nets are still going to conduct a full-scale coaching search also expected to include several high-profile candidates, including:
- Los Angeles Clippers assistant Ty Lue
- Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jason Kidd
- Philadelphia 76ers assistant Ime Udoka
- Former Houston Rockets and New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy
Udoka, like Vaughn, played and coached under Popovich in San Antonio.
Trying to attract Popovich, a five-time NBA champion and three-time Coach of the Year, is a massive long shot, but it's hard to blame the Nets' front office for at least giving it a chance.
The 71-year-old Air Force product is one of the most respected leaders in sports, and if there's anybody capable of handling the star-studded roster Brooklyn is building, it's Pop.
He remains under contract with the Spurs, however, and he's shown no signs of seeking an exit despite watching the team's record-tying 22-season playoff streak end Thursday.
"Why wouldn't I?" Popovich told reporters when asked whether he'd return to San Antonio next season.
Popovich has served as the Spurs' head coach since 1996. His 1,447 combined wins between the regular season and the playoffs are the most in NBA history.