BY JOSH ROBBINS
ORLANDO SENTINEL (MCT)
ORLANDO – Orlando Magic players, coaches and support staffers assembled on Amway Center’s practice court a bit before 10 last Sunday morning. The team split into small groups, with three players clustered around each basket to shoot free throws.
Coach Jacque Vaughn started to circulate. He walked from one end of the gym to the other and usually smiled as he stopped to speak with different players.
His brief tour ended with a conversation with Mickell Gladness, a 6-foot-11 center without a guaranteed contract trying to earn a roster spot.
Vaughn’s relaxed interactions with his players offered a brief glimpse into his personal style. Just four years removed from his NBA playing days, his most obvious characteristics are his easy rapport with players and his perpetually sunny demeanor.
Yet as he begins his second season as a head coach, Vaughn also acknowledges he is continuing to grow.
“Part of me self-examining is I took different parts of what we did last year and tried to look if it was successful for us,” Vaughn said. “Was shoot-around successful for us? Was our film session successful? How can we be more efficient? So those are the things I really tried to get better at.
“I looked at my old practice plans and critiqued them and what I thought were some good things that we’ll continue to carry over and some things that I didn’t like,” he added.
“I got with my coaches and we kind of free-for-all and critique each other and talk about how we can be better. We’ll always do that. I ask the players to do that, so I’ve got to do it for myself.”
Even the longest-tenured NBA coaches evaluate themselves each offseason and attempt to improve. In that sense, Vaughn, 38, is no exception from the rest of the coaching fraternity.
Still, he faces a different situation than most of his counterparts. He inherited a team at the outset of a massive rebuilding project. The franchise intends to allocate playing time to the youngest, most inexperienced members on its roster.
Vaughn faces almost no pressure to win now, but at the same time, he and his staff have a mandate to accelerate the youngsters’ growth. The task is more complicated than it seems. The youngsters need to improve even as they suffer through loss after loss, and Vaughn must find a way to keep their confidence high.
‘Always the same’
Last season, as the team sputtered to a league-worst 20-62 record, Magic executives and veteran players marveled at Vaughn’s ability to remain positive and promote a sunny atmosphere.
“He’s always the same,” veteran point guard Jameer Nelson said. “He gets on guys, but he’s always the same no matter if we win or lose. He played in the league for a long time, so he knows you can’t get too high or too low.”
Vaughn said he insists on receiving constructive criticism from his assistant coaches and his players, but perhaps no one has more freedom to speak frankly to him than Gordon Chiesa.
Chiesa spent 16 seasons as a Utah Jazz assistant coach, and Chiesa’s tenure in Salt Lake City included the first four seasons of Vaughn’s playing career.
When Vaughn became the Magic’s head coach, the team hired Chiesa to serve as a special consultant to Vaughn. Chiesa still lives in Utah, but he spends about one week each month in Orlando, attending practices and games. When Chiesa isn’t in Central Florida, he watches each Magic game on TV.
Chiesa attended the first week of this year’s training camp. He sat on a sideline during each practice with a pen in one hand and a clipboard on his lap.
“He’s a constant reminder for me of pushing myself,” Vaughn said.
“He is a voice of reasoning, a lot of times a contrarian voice for me, and challenges me to keep pushing myself and keep pushing the staff. He’s done it for 25 years and he’s seen a lot, and for me to talk to him at any time and for him to give me feedback, it’s really priceless.”