Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY
Every year is different, that is something Jacque Vaughn always says regarding his team and his season. He is growing and developing as a coach as much as his players are in the second year as head coach.
With the roster he has, the win-loss expectation is still pretty low. Making the Playoffs, a pipe dream before the season began but certainly one that has disappeared in the middle of a seven-game losing streak which includes four losses on this five-game road trip ending Monday in Dallas, was not quite on the team's radar in this rebuild. The real expectation was for the young players to continue improving and for everyone to grow.
That is where much of the frustration has come in for fans. They are not seeing the improvement they would like to see perhaps from young players, they are seeing rotations that have consistently left young players like Kyle O'Quinn and Andrew Nicholson on the bench and have seen an offense that tends to stagnate without any imagination to give it a push.
All those are fair criticisms of Jacque Vaughn. And if you want to build a winning culture, it feels like some of those decisions have cost the team wins. It is a long season, and many of those problems — particularly with the young players — should change as the season progresses.
Magic general manager Rob Hennigan is not worried about those criticisms so far. He told Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel last week that Jacque Vaughn is his team's coach and has his full support:
We're very proud of the job that Jacque has done. His leadership has set the foundation. He understands the process. He isn't in a rush to skip steps. He's a great teacher. He's done a noteworthy job of being unselfish, realizing we're building for the long haul.
He knew what he was signing up for as I knew what I was signing up for. We believe in the foundation we're establishing.
Hennigan also said that it is fair that no one can truly evaluate Vaughn's ability as a coach until he gets a roster that has the expectations to win. The Magic are not quite at that stage yet.
What matters to Hennigan and the Magic, Schmitz reported, are thei ntangibles. Intangibles such as whether the team is playing hard for Vaughn and buying into the team's long-term goals. The Magic want veterans who will keep the young players hungry and professional.
It is all about growth.
The question fans have to ask is whether the team is making those strides. Are players getting better? Have they expanded their games? Are they taking losses hard without getting too low? Are they continuing to play hard?
Jacque Vaughn is not getting fired after this season, even if the Magic end with the worst record in the league again. The expectations for winning will not start for at least another season. So long as the Magic are continuing to make those improvements, Vaughn will be getting the thumbs up from management.
The frustrations though will persist until the team really gets an identity. That might not be until the team starts focusing more on wins and losses.