Kiki Vandeweghe Takes High Road Despite Abrupt Dismissal
One day before Mikhail Prokhorov was impolitely ending Kiki Vandeweghe's two-year term in New Jersey, the Russian tycoon and new Nets owner started a delightful exchange with his general manager.
"I met Mr. Prokhorov for a couple minutes before the [draft] lottery [on Tuesday], and we had a very nice conversation," Vandeweghe told FanHouse by phone Thursday from New Jersey.
A day later, Vandeweghe -- whose contract is set to expire on June 30 -- learned by way of the media that he would not be receiving a new deal.
Team president Rod Thorn, who reportedly planned on telling Vandeweghe this week at predraft camp in Chicago, will now add general manager to his title. Vandeweghe confirmed that he didn't learn his fate through Prokhorov or Thorn, but through the new owner's public announcement.
"Obviously receiving news like that is never a lot of fun," said Vandeweghe, who took over for the fired Lawrence Frank after the team's 0-16 start last season and stayed on for the remainder of the franchise-worst 12-70 campaign. "Having said that, I'm very appreciative of the opportunity here. I enjoyed myself a lot, worked for great people, great [former] owners.
"[But] it was tough. I'm not going to lie about it. We were sort of following directions. We went through a rebuild, cleared the salary cap space so we could have a seat at the free agent table and rebuild the team as quickly as we could. And I think the team is positioned in a great place now."
Yet right about the time it will get even more interesting, when free agency begins in July and the Nets have a chance to add a top-tier free agent or two to their roster that will also include the third pick in the June draft, Vandeweghe will be looking for work again. Until then, Vandeweghe said he will remain with the team.
"I have another month and half on my contract, and I'll help out where I can," he said. "There are several projects I started with the Nets, and I'd like to finish those. I'll take stock a little bit and look at the opportunities wherever they might be. I'm excited for them. I love basketball."
But without question, Vandeweghe would have loved more than anything to see this project through.
The former Denver general manager, who was a two-time All-Star during his 13-year playing career, admitted that communication -- or lack thereof -- was the biggest challenge during the Prokhorov transition. He had no firsthand sense of what might lie ahead, as he had to rely on Thorn for all feedback from above.
"The only person who really dealt with [Prokhorov] was [Thorn]," Vandeweghe said. "I had no idea what was going to happen, who was going to stay or who was going to go. In those types of situations, all you can do is put your head down and go to work. ... Do your planning. Do everything like you've been asked. I thought I did that."
Despite the disaster that was the Nets' 2009-10 season, Vandeweghe said he has no regrets about agreeing to become a coach for the first time in his career.
"When Mr. Thorn fired Lawrence, he came to me and asked me to do it," Vandeweghe said. "He didn't demand it. He asked me to do it. The team needed me to do it, so you do it. I didn't have any experience. It turned out tough, and day to day the team was in disarray. ... But it was one of the hardest and one of the best things I ever did. It helped me in my day job because now I know how to help a coach better. It was a great experience."
Vandeweghe said he doesn't think the Del Harris saga from last season played a part in his dismissal, but the communication chasm between him and Thorn (and their agent, Warren LeGarie) clearly didn't help matters. Vandeweghe added the former head coach to his staff in late November, and Harris was reportedly under the impression he would eventually become the head coach for at least the immediate future while Vandeweghe would return to his general manager role. Thorn, however, had no knowledge of the agreement and Harris resigned in early February.
"No, I really don't think [that played a part]," Vandeweghe said. "That was sort of a three- or four-day issue. It was very uncomfortable for everybody. I didn't like it. Del was the guy I had chosen. I understand he had his reasons [for resigning]. I'm not blaming anybody, but that was -- for a couple days -- real tough. But then everything really blew over and got straightened out very quickly."
If only temporarily.
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