Coaches in general are a rare breed. Sometimes they’re insightful, but many times they’re confusing. In the same vein a a skilled politician, most coaches can navigate around a question and give a well rehearsed, uninspiring answer that doesn’t mean much on the surface.
Yesterday, the Orlando Magic’s website posted a Q&A between website writer John Denton and head coach Jacque Vaughn. The article starts off with a poem (basketball and poems!) and another drawn out metaphor explaining that the Magic are going to be pretty bad this year, but that things will eventually get better (standard M.O. for the Magic website this offseason).
Eventually Denton gets to the questions, and Vaughn does his best to carefully answer without revealing any specific goals for the upcoming season. However, with further examination, Vaughn did offer some interesting insights if you can sift through the generic coaching lingo.
So for the uninitiated in coach speak, Presto in the Paint is here to interpret exactly what Jacque Vaughn meant.
DENTON: “As a second-year coach now, you are obviously a lot more familiar with your players and your coaching staff. How excited are you to get to work with the team heading into training camp?”
VAUGHN: “I told a group the other day that you don’t really know your team until you coach that team. I think the guys know me better and I definitely know them better. I’m really looking forward to seeing their progress and for us to come together again. I’m looking forward to us taking another journey together again and getting better this year.’’
INTERPRETATION: It was all sort of new last year. I was a first year head coach. Not really sure how I was going to handle this team that was basically starting from scratch. This season we all kind of know what we’re working with. It’s going to be another long season in terms of wins and losses, but what’s important is to focus on the process and getting better.
DENTON: “One common belief in the NBA is that between Year 1 and Year 2 is when NBA players make the most progress in their games. How much growth do you think some of your young players can make after spending much of their summers working in the Magic facility?”
VAUGHN: “One of the most difficult things you can do sometimes is getting young guys to realize how hard it is to work in this league and be successful. The earlier they understand that and grasp it, the better off you are as a team. Our guys grasped that concept this summer and put in a lot of work.’’
INTERPRETATION: You don’t just get automatically better. The players who break out as stars in the league do so because they work harder than most. I’m going to say that our guys “get that concept” and “worked hard” in the offseason regardless of whether or not they actually did because I’m a coach and I need to be positive with these young guys.
DENTON: “Like when you were a player, I’m sure you evolve as a coach with each season. What did your first season as a head coach teach you? How will you be different or the same in your second season?”
VAUGHN: “I think it’s important to do a lot of self-evaluation. For me, I want to be like bamboo in that I’m strong and firm in some areas that we really need to be better at. But as wind and bamboo mix together, (the bamboo) is able to be flexible at the same time. So I’ll learn this team and treat them as a different team. I won’t have the same practice plan, not even one, as I had last year. I will treat them as an individual team and we’ll work to get better together.’’
INTERPRETATION: Just like players, coaches need to improve every offseason. There has to be a balance between being firm with this young guys and using positive reinforcement. I’m going to bring a new approach this year so my message doesn’t get stale to these guys. Bamboo analogy just to confuse you.
DENTON: “Tobias Harris played exceptionally well over the final two months of last season after coming in the trade from Milwaukee. Where do you want to see him make the biggest strides this season?”
VAUGHN: “I think overall I want to see his game fully blossom. I want to be able to throw him the ball in the post and to see him be able to get a rebound, bust out in transition and make plays. You’ll see him handle the ball a little more. And at the same time, we’re going to challenge him defensively to be able to guard multiple positions on a nightly basis.’’
INTERPRETATION: Tobias is a man without a position right now. Is he a small forward? Is he a power forward? I don’t know. He’s going to have to improve with either his outside shot if he’s going to play the 3, or his low post game at the 4. Either way, he has to improve defensively. We’ll see what happens.
DENTON: “Same question about Nik Vucevic and Mo Harkless. Where are you looking for them to grow the most this season?”
VAUGHN: “With Mo, his improvement will be with his consistency and his confidence on the floor. Hopefully, he’ll play with a very heightened confidence because of the work that he’s put in this summer.”
“As for Nik, he has some great games for us last season, and now we just want to parlay those games into him being even more consistent. We also want him to play with an aggressiveness that he knows that he needs to play with. I also want him to be more confident like he was at the end of the season last year.’’
INTERPRETATION: Mo is only 20, hopefully his maturation will progress along with the load of responsibility we’re going to ask of him. Vucevic showed some flashes of promise. But at some point those flashes will have to become his night-in-night-out game. We need him to our centerpiece big man this season.
DENTON: “I know that you have spent a significant amount of time with rookie guard Victor Oladipo since last June’s NBA Draft. How well have you gotten to know him and how will you handle him this season?”
VAUGHN: “We want to tap into his effort and his competitiveness from the start. His position, we don’t know, but he will be a guard for us. But there’s one thing that he can control every night and that’s his competitive nature. I’ll rely on him to set a tone for our guards and I’m going to push him hard. I think he has that capability to answer the call.’’
INTERPRETATION: We’re not really sure of VO’s ceiling. We know he’s an extremely motivated worker and disciplined. Offensively? Who knows. We’re going to rely on his attitude and defensive intensity more than anything in his rookie year while slowly maturing his skill set.
DENTON: “We’ve talked a lot about your young players, but you still have a veteran core of players who you will be relied heavily on this season? How much easier does it make your job to have a group of veterans who know the NBA ropes and can assist in leading the younger players?”
VAUGHN: “I think we have a really good mix. We even added veterans like Jason Maxiell and Ronnie Price, who have been in the tough games and big atmospheres before. You put that with our group of young guys and it’s just a great mix of players. That’s important as you grow as an organization.’’
INTERPRETATION: If we can trade them, we’ll trade them.
DENTON: “What will be your primary message to the team as you work in training camp and prepare for the regular season ahead?”
VAUGHN: “You’ve graduated and Year 1 is over. There will be different challenges ahead and we’ll have to be able to face those challenges head on. But I always go back to enjoying what we do because this is a great job to have. This is our job and what we do for a living, but we have to enjoy it, embrace it and come to work hard every day.’’
INTERPRETATION: News flash, we’re going to be doing a lot of losing. It’s going to hurt a little. I just want my team to love the game like they always have and not get discouraged by our record.