Jacque Vaughn’s time in Orlando has come to a merciful, if somewhat misguided, end. The Magic have parted ways with the 39-year-old former point guard who struggled to coax the NBA’s fourth-youngest roster at the start of the season to competitiveness in a historically feeble Eastern Conference. Elsewhere, the Eastern Conference named an entire starting five as its Player of the Month, and Adam Silver is reportedly open to changing the playoff structure.
1. The Orlando Magic fire Jacque Vaughn after two and a half seasons as head coach: During his time in Orlando, Vaughn’s teams were perennial lottery contenders and failed to record more than 23 wins, although, for what it’s worth, they are on pace to do so this season. Being this bad in the Eastern Conference is wholly unsustainable unless you are the Philadelphia 76ers, in which case, the champagne and caviar are this way, Coach Brown. Though the Magic feature bright young pieces like Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic, the free agent signing of Channing Frye from this past summer did not pan out the way the team hoped, and Tobias Harris is reportedly looking to land elsewhere this summer. The Magic currently rank 24th in both points scored and points allowed per game and are currently on a ten-game losing streak, so this was the perfect time for Orlando’s management to pick a scapegoat and send him on his holly jolly way.
2. The Eastern Conference Players of the Month – YOUR Atlanta Hawks: After running the table and enjoying the first 17-0 month in NBA history, the league decided to award the “team basketball” apologists by naming Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, Al Horford, Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll co-players of the month for January. This situation is a little more loaded and problematic than it may seem on first glance. In a rebuke on Grantland, Andrew Sharp noted, “the Heat played ‘team basketball’ when they won 27 games in a row a few years ago, but nobody was falling over themselves to congratulate the Heat on the genius of their unselfishness. And you know why nobody said that? Because the Heat had players who were actually good.”
On the one hand, this is a different way to treat and otherwise overlooked and unnecessary cost of doing business. Rather than handing the award to, say, Kyrie Irving or LeBron James, the league gave some respect to Uncle Drew’s fundamentals and took the star focus away in a star-driven league, which is kind of a nice change of pace. Sharp also sort of undoes himself by talking about the Hawks as an unsexy, uncool entity because of their players and then presenting the LeBron-era Heatles as a counterpoint. Of course that Heat team didn’t generate this brand of love – their players were all so good that we expected them to steamroll teams every night. Having three All-Stars (and a probable fourth in 50-50-90 candidate Kyle Korver, depending on Dwyane Wade’s status) is a testament to what the Hawks have done this season.
On the other hand, I mean…the Spurs have been doing this for about the last decade and a half. Where are all of their co-Players of the Month awards?
3. Adam Silver open to change in the NBA playoff format: Speaking of the last decade and a half, let’s talk about conference imbalance. Since the turn of the millennium, the West has been far and away the superior basketball institution. Following the final Jordan-Bulls championship in 1998, the Western Conference has claimed eleven of the last sixteen NBA Finals titles, and only the Miami Heat have won multiple championships out of the East. Though the inferior conference produces one or two legitimate contenders each season – the cream rising to the top – the West has been a bloodbath, consistently turning out upwards of five or six teams that could win. This season has been the climax of that disparity, as perhaps nine teams in the West could conceivably win. The East is lowly beyond perhaps the top four squads, and although every playoff team has technically has a chance, does anyone see the Hornets running the table and beating the Warriors in a seven-game series?
Commissioner Adam Silver knows what’s going on, he hears what the people are saying and he wants to do right by the fans. During a broadcast of the Warriors-Mavericks game on Wednesday night, Silver discussed the gulf between the two conferences and the fact that some of the best teams are not competing come playoff time due to geography (from Yahoo! Sport’s Kelly Dwyer and Ball Don’t Lie): “Ultimately we want to see your best teams in the playoffs. And there is an unbalance and a certain unfairness. There is a proposal (from one of the broadcasters)… where the division winners would all automatically go into the playoffs and then you’d seed the next 10 best teams…It’s something I’m going to look at closely with the competition committee. I do think it’s an area where we need to make a change.”
The politics inherent to such a change may muck things up in the short term, but sooner or later NBA owners must realize that to engage the fans completely, the on-court product must be the best it possibly can be. A playoff system in which the best teams compete against one another, regardless of latitude and longitude, would go a long way toward optimizing the league.