Jacque Vaughn and Mahatma Gandhi. Uncanny, really (Getty Images)
Considering that a careful consideration of his work and the various independence movements he championed wasn't exactly given more than an afternoon's worth of discussion in most public education history classes during the late 1990s, it's pretty impressive that Mahatma Gandhi's name is at the tip of Glen "Big Baby" Davis' lips as he discusses the approaches taken by new Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn in the coach's rookie year.
Nearly as impressive as Orlando's 5-8 start to the season. Quite a few pundits, myself included, predicted the Magic to end the season with one of the lowest win totals in the NBA during 2012-13. We thought that the roster was still full of passable NBA players, the team wasn't rebuilding with total scrubs, but only a coach that could secure a game-to-game output that was bigger than the sum of its parts could hope to stay competitive. And this is exactly what Magic coach Jacque Vaughn is doing as he leads his team toward competency, if not a winning record.
For Davis, the comparison to his former coach in Boston's Doc Rivers is night and day; even if Davis still has kind things to say about Rivers. And he doesn't mind saying all of it on record, because happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
"Different guys," Davis said of the two coaches. "Doc is more of a military-minded kind of guy, and Jacque is more of a Gandhi kind of guy — soft but powerful. Doc's more, 'Get the job done,' and Jacque Vaughn is more the kind of guy who will ask you, 'Would you feel comfortable getting the job done?' I think that's different with players. But in my system, I think I just feel better functioning in Jacque's system. Doc wasn't the kind of guy to pat you on your back and say, 'Good job, man.' He's more like, 'OK, move on.' In a way that's positive, but some players are different.
"Jacque's a different kind of guy. He pats you on your back — good job. That's his motivation. But at the same time he still holds you accountable if you're doing things wrong."
Just try and re-read that without laughing at the "would you feel comfortable getting the job done?"-line. Try it. Love you, Big Baby, because where there is love there is life.He went on to say that Doc was good for the beginning of his career, which lasted from 2007 to 2011 in Boston, and credits him with "building the foundation" for the undersized forward. And that, when you're a rookie, "you need a guy like Doc to set you straight."
Of course, though he did play point guard for 12 NBA seasons, Jacque Vaughn is a rookie NBA head coach. And, so far in his initial season with Orlando, he needs a guy like Davis in order to help his team compete.
Davis isn't producing at All-Star levels in his second season with the Magic. He still shoots a low percentage as a big man and doesn't get to the line much. But he's average overall; and, not to slam the guy, that's an improvement on his first five years in the NBA. Observers tended to overrate Davis because of his stature as an NCAA champion and plenty of postseason exposure with Boston, but those low percentages and iffy rebounding totals got in the way of getting to that middle ground.
Because of his work as a scorer, though, the Magic are hanging in there. Like so many cats, dangling from branches perilously perched atop the Ganges River.
Our worry about the Magic heading into this post-Dwight Howard rebuilding year was the average tone of its roster failing the team as it looked for a star to keep things decisive. The 5-8 start, though, is huge; and Vaughn has this team playing improved (to eighth, overall, up from 12th) defense than the batch Stan Van Gundy squeezed from a group that featured Howard (on court, sometimes, and once in a while even caring) last season. Nine of the team's regulars (10, once Hedo Turkoglu returns) feature double-figure Player Efficiency Ratings; and though that's not a guaranteed recipe for a run to .500, that number isn't typical amongst scorched earth teams in the midst of a rebuild.
Of course, there are other easy connections between Vaughn and Rivers, despite their apparently disparate styles.
The offseason before that season saw Orlando GM John Gabriel admittedly clear the decks, working as the second NBA GM (following Chicago's Jerry Krause) to notice that if you acquired a whole bunch of players with expiring contracts (new term!), you could put together a whole lot of cap space for a designated offseason. And for Orlando that offseason was the 2000 summer, with Tim Duncan, Grant Hill, Jermaine O'Neal and Tracy McGrady hitting the open free-agent waters.
The 1999-00 season wasn't supposed to count, but Rivers and his band of merry men took to the year with abandon, keeping games close and nearly making the playoffs (until a batch of underachievers in Milwaukee got their acts together late in the season). All done behind the work of Rivers, Darrell Armstrong, and a player in Ben Wallace that Washington traded away because it thought it was one Ike Austin away from making the postseason.
This year's group doesn't have the same talent, but the drive is there and they truly appear to love working under Vaughn. That, in a rebuilding season in front of a ticked-off Magic fan base, is enough for now.
And, as Jacque tears into the meaty, blood-ridden taste of VICTORY, he may turn out like Gen. Glenn "Doc" Rivers soon enough. Look out, countrymen.
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