Jacque Vaughn will be coaching depleted squad as Nets’ restart begins

After the NBA’s long coronavirus layoff, the Nets are ramping up to resume play. They opened HSS Training Center on Tuesday and will bring players back for mandatory workouts Wednesday. But make no mistake, they’ll be decimated when they finally get back on the court.

With six players hurt, having tested positive for COVID-19 or opting out of the Orlando restart, they’re down to a dozen healthy bodies. The way the past few days have gone, they could have even fewer by the time they arrive at the Grand Floridian a week from Wednesday.

If the next month-plus is an audition for interim coach Jacque Vaughn, he’s going in with one hand tied behind his back.

Everybody knew stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, as well as Nic Claxton, would all be out hurt. But Wilson Chandler opting out, and DeAndre Jordan and Spencer Dinwiddie both announcing they had tested positive for coronavirus on Monday, left the Nets stunned. And shorthanded.

Both Jordan and Dinwiddie had been out of the area and came back to New York perfectly healthy. It was only well after they returned to Brooklyn they both contracted COVID-19.

“Found out last night and confirmed again today that I’ve tested positive for Covid while being back in market,” Jordan tweeted on Monday. “As a result of this, I will not be in Orlando for the resumption of the season.”

Jacque Vaughn
Jacque VaughnPaul J. Bereswill

Jordan’s mother, Kimberly, followed up with a question that was rhetorical but valid, asking, “I don’t know why in the hell they had y’all to go back to NY in the first place?!”

While Dinwiddie tweeted that he hasn’t opted out and wants to play, the point guard will still be quarantined for two weeks. And the fact that he’s symptomatic with fever and chest tightness doesn’t bode well and casts doubt on whether he’ll suit up again this season.

“Originally, we were supposed to be one of the teams to enter into the Orlando bubble early, but training camp got switched back to New York and unfortunately I am now positive,” Dinwiddie told the Athletic, adding “Hindsight is 20/20.”

Losing Dinwiddie — who averaged career-bests of 20.6 points and 6.8 to keep Brooklyn afloat in Irving’s absence — would be a huge blow and heap playmaking duties on Caris LeVert, Chris Chiozza and Garrett Temple.

Brooklyn did ink Tyler Johnson as a free agent after waiving Theo Pinson, and brought back former 10-day Justin Anderson as a substitute for Chandler. Starting Wednesday, they can add substitutes for Jordan or anybody else who tests positive.

The substitute wouldn’t count against the cap and would be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

If the Nets try to replace Jordan like-for-like, they could add 6-foot-11, 265-pound John Egbunu from Long Island, or fellow G-Leaguers like Santa Cruz’s Deyonta Davis, Delaware’s 7-foot-4 shot blocker Christ Koumadje or Windy City’s Simi Shittu. And Dragan Bender — on a 10-day with Golden State when the NBA halted — is an upside play.

Whatever the case, Vaughn is facing a tall task with a gutted roster.

Brooklyn is clinging to a tenuous half-game edge on Orlando for the seventh seed. The Nets lead ninth-place Washington by six games, and oddsmakers have tabbed them to win just three games in the restart.

If the Wizards close the gap enough they could force a play-in against the eighth seed. Should the Nets fail to make the playoffs — falling into the lottery — they would retain their first-round draft pick. But that would be small solace considering their high hopes at the start of this crazy COVID season.

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