Mejia: Vaughn's arrival seems linked with Howard's impending departure

Mejia: Vaughn’s arrival seems linked with Howard’s impending departure

Orlando introduced Jacque Vaughn on Monday afternoon, but the curiosity over the well- versed first-time head coach inevitably gave way to more Dwight Howard questions.

As has been the case since taking over, GM Rob Hennigan gave away nothing. CEO Alex Martins, who had previously stated his insistence not to have another season like this past one, relayed only that the organization would stay true to their strategy and day-to-day analysis. Even Dan DeVos appears to have bought into Hennigan’s approach, dropping the “process” term in his short address of how ownership feels about their new coach.

Despite so much being kept close to the vest and answers to questions requiring the deciphering of code designed to tell you nothing anyway, one message did get through loud and clear.

Howard is not a part of the Orlando Magic’s future.

Building a winning culture requires everyone to buy in, so when the universal chorus specifically voices that one individual will never be greater than the whole, it tells you all you need to know. Hennigan is more than willing to part with the All-Star center who has been the face of the franchise for the last eight years, but he’s not going to give him away.

Vaughn’s hire speaks of a desire to build from the ground up. The 37-year-old coach referenced being part of the inner circle, which instantly brought to mind Robert DeNiro’s overzealous character in “Meet the Parents.” If Hennigan is Jack Byrnes and Vaughn is Greg Focker, it seems apparent Howard is permanently barred from the circle of trust.

The new head coach said he expects to talk to everyone on the Magic’s roster, which was more dismissive of putting Howard in a special category than it was inclusive. Howard had leaked a few of the candidates he’d be interested in playing for, and that list didn’t include the former Spurs assistant. In fairness to Howard, that was by no means a slight of Vaughn, but more an indication he wan’t on the radar.

“Blessed are the flexible, as they will not be bent out of shape,” Vaughn said of the unique situation he inherits in his first head coaching gig. “I want people who want to be coached, who want to compete, who want to be great. I’m easy.”

Howard, rightfully frustrated by many of the questionable decisions Magic management has made over the past few years, isn’t being easy. He’s stubbornly kept Orlando from securing the ideal package of young talent and cap flexibility it seeks, attempting to will himself to Brooklyn and now Los Angeles.

Questions over last week’s peculiar meeting in L.A. drew perhaps the only straight answer from Hennigan, who jokingly captured the tone of the talks, even admitting that going in circles is sometimes part of the process.

Hennigan: “It reminded me a lot of the movie Groundhog Day, where you go in and it seems like the same meeting.”

While he’s obviously not the only one frustrated with the Dwightmare, the Magic GM isn’t going to put an end to it hastily. Nothing has been dismissed, including starting the season with Howard. The Magic understand there’s no leverage to be gained by succumbing to the desire to move on prior to training camp.

Expect to hear rumors of talks in the coming weeks, but with August and September remaining before the Magic open camp, time remains on their side. As far as definitive moves to help mold Orlando’s future are concerned, hiring Vaughn will have to do.

“I don’t think we’ve taken a risk or stuck our neck out at all,” said Martins. “He’s the right coach for this organization at this point in our history.”

The Magic are in transition. They seek a bounty of cap relief and young pieces that the community will embrace. The new coach was hired to serve as a patient teacher and build a foundation that’s sustainable. It won’t happen overnight, so flexibility, as Vaughn alluded to, will be key.

He won the press conference, coming off as impressive and humble, thanking the Magic for the opportunity. Vaughn cited Roy Williams, Jerry Sloan and Gregg Popovich as mentors. He credited his college coach at Kansas for teaching him how much it matters to care for players on and off the court. He learned the value of day-to-day effort and competition from Sloan. H perfecte the art of meticulous preperation under Pop. Williams and Sloan are already Hall of Famers. Popovich’s inclusion is a formality.

The pedigree is there. Vaughn has a great relationship with Hennigan and they expect to work in tandem to build successfully.

How quickly their vision comes together is going to depend on how much they get for Howard. It’s clear there’s no future to be had there. Currently, their relationship status is adversarial. Most likely, over the next two months, there will be no relationship. Howard will be elsewhere and a rebuild will ensue.

 

Tony Mejia is senior writer of Pro Basketball News. Follow him on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA