NCAA Tournament, Knicks, Nets, Rose

Vaughn has right touch

No one would have been surprised if the Nets qualified for the play-in game since they won enough games this season to avoid not playing it despite Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving being traded in the midseason.

But the Nets qualifying for the playoffs by being the sixth seed without Durant and Irving is something no one could have saw coming.

The Nets will start their first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Someone deserves credit for maintaining the Nets’ success despite Durant and Irving not being there and Ben Simmons missing nearly half the season due to injury.

It’s easy to say Nets general manager Sean Marks since he managed to receive productive players in return with the trades he made such as getting Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith for Irving and Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson for Durant. You can credit the new players for bringing energy and winning.

Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn should be the one getting all the accolades for getting the Nets into the playoffs. He brought credibility and stability back after Steve Nash was fired, while Durant and Irving forced their way out after being unhappy as Nets despite being paid well and getting so much power to dictate what the team should do.

Vaughn managed to be the only adult in the room when it came to leading the team this season. He kept coaching by integrating all the new players on the fly and winning games. He somehow managed to win games and develop players such as Cam Thomas, Royce O’Neale, Yuta Watanabe, Edmond Sumner, and Johnson. He kept the new players engaged when it could have been easy for them to quit and wait until the next season to go all in.

Vaughn had experience in coaching the Nets in the midseason. Several years ago, he was the interim coach when the Nets fired Kenny Atkinson as their coach. He kept the team afloat by leading the Nets to a playoff appearance despite playing in the bubble in the pandemic season.

His success that season was why Marks was not hesitant to hire him to replace Nash this season. If the Nets general manager had his way, Vaughn would have been the head coach full-time after experiencing success as interim coach. Durant and Irving wanted Nash as the head coach when they signed with the Nets as free agents.

Fortunately for Marks and the Nets, Vaughn decided to stay on as an assistant coach, and it finally paid off for him when he got the head coaching job for good this year. Vaughn’s success comes from knowing how to lead. He commands respect from his players, and he knows how to communicate what needs to be done by his players. He does a great job teaching the young players how to play basketball by telling them to know how to execute their roles. He has been a straight shooter by letting his players know where he stands with them.

The Nets have been a pleasure to watch since Durant and Irving left. They play defense. There’s not much iso-ball. Guys play for each other. There’s no drama surrounding this team. The young players have been getting playing time that they would not get under Nash.

That’s a testament to Vaughn. Sure he has to do it out of necessity since he has been searching for the right lineup that would make everything work and win games, but nevertheless, he has been open-minded about playing players that would not necessarily play if Nash was coaching. It’s hard to believe Day’Ron Sharpe would have been playing if Vaughn’s predecessor was the head coach.

The Nets could have fallen apart when they lost six of seven a few weeks ago. They responded by winning five of seven to finish the season which helped them get the sixth seed rather than play in the play-in game. This is where Vaughn gets credit for getting this team together rather than having this team off the rails such as losing or guys pointing fingers or guys punching each other in a timeout huddle.

Vaughn had the Nets playing better defense down the stretch, which was why they responded after losing six of seven.

There’s no doubt Durant and Irving did Vaughn a favor by leaving. It could have been hard for him to coach had those two stuck around. With star players, it could be hard to coach them since they are set in their own ways and they rarely listen to head coaches that have never won a championship.

Vaughn did have head coaching experience before. He was the Orlando Magic head coach a long time ago when he was told to coach a rebuilding team after Dwight Howard orchestrated his departure to Los Angeles to be with the Lakers. He never had success mainly because he did not have the right players to work with at the time.

With the Nets, he has a chance to do well since he has a general manager that knows what he is doing in finding talent and putting a team together.

He could be a keeper for a long time from what he has done as the Nets head coach.

You can read Leslie's Jersey Sporting News columns on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays.