According to ESPN, the Orlando Magic have decided to retain interim head James Borrego for the remainder of the regular season before engaging in a thorough coaching search this summer. This essentially makes the next 26 games an audition of sorts for Borrego (as well as for new assistant Igor Kokoskov). After a disastrous 10-game losing streak that saw Jacque Vaughn lose his job, management is ready to make some changes and move this team in a new direction. But will Borrego be a part of it? He has two months to make his case, and he has his work cut out for him.
The Magic have a nice collection of young talent in Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic, Elfrid Payton and Tobias Harris. But despite their potential and limited expectations, they’ve still managed to underachieve. Vaughn was a disappointment in his two and a half seasons with the team, guiding them to a putrid 58-158 record (a 27% win percentage). It’s not just the fact that the Magic had a bad record; that was expected. It was the total lack of improvement. Vaughn failed to give the team any sort of identity, which led to inconsistency and aimlessness. He didn’t do much to help the development of the team’s young talents, and the Magic seemed to be spinning their wheels for two years rather than showing signs of growth, a sentiment echoed by GM Rob Hennigan:
"We went into this season wanting to see some kind of progress. We wanted to see growth. We just didn't feel like we were seeing the type of growth we wanted to see. We're finding ourselves in sort of a rut ... but it's a road bump, not a road block"
Will Borrego be an improvement? That remains to be seen. He’s the youngest coach in the league at 37, and with only a handful of D-League games under his belt, he doesn’t exactly have a ton of big-game experience. He’s still largely an unknown entity at this point, and if even if he does develop into a quality coach, it won’t happen overnight. But despite the skepticism, there are some encouraging signs.
Borrego served as an assistant for the San Antonio Spurs from 2003-2010, starting out as a video coordinator before being promoted to assistant coach. It’s well documented that the Gregg Popovich-R.C Buford coaching tree has produced a number of successful coaches and front office executives, such as Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer and Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti. Of course, Vaughn and Vinny Del Negro are part of that tree as well, so it’s not all good. But for the most part, Popovich disciples have gone on to find success at their new jobs, and the hope is that Borrego will follow suit.
For Borrego to stand out, he needs to help this team develop an identity, and from what we’ve seen so far, it’s likely to come on the defensive end. The team has already made noticeable improvements in Borrego’s short stint, holding all four opponents to under 100 points; under Vaughn, they had allowed opponents to reach triple figures in their last 14 games. The Magic have strong defensive players in Payton, Oladipo, Kyle O`Quinn, and Dewayne Dedmon, and if Borrego can continue to get them to play up to their lofty potential, the Magic may finally grown into the tough, defensive-minded group many envisioned.
Most importantly, the Magic seem to be responding well to Borrego so far. They’ve played hard in their four games since Vaughn’s firing, going 2-2, and the players seem to like and respect him."It was a huge win for J.B; I think everybody was pulling for him in his first game," Harris said after the team's OT win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Borrego's debut. "He deserves it more than anybody. ... That's the challenge, our task right now: Can we turn it around or will we just lie down and roll over ourselves? I thought this was a step in the right direction." The Magic could easily accept that this is a lost season and just go through the motions the rest of the way, but Borrego seems to have lit a fire under them.
Honestly, Borrego is a long shot to earn the permanent head coaching job. The Magic want an experienced coach to take over, and there are plenty of viable candidates such as Michael Malone, Mark Jackson, and fan favorite Scott Skiles. But don't count Borrego out just yet; he's young, he's smart, he comes from a great background, and he seems to be a player's coach. Even if it's not with the Magic, don't be surprised if Borrego lands a head coach gig somewhere down the line.