USD Alum now interim NBA coach
Orlando Magic hire James Borrego
ASST. SPORTS EDITOR
The Orlando Magic have named former University of San Diego basketball player and assistant coach James Borrego as their interim head coach. Borrego, who played in 15 games for the Toreros from 1999-2001, takes over head coaching duties from the departing Jacque Vaughn.
Borrego’s long, arduous coaching journey began at USD, where he was hired as an assistant coach following his playing days. He was part of a coaching staff which led the Toreros to a West Coast Conference championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2003.
The NBA came calling shortly after that, and Borrego was quickly hired by the dynastic San Antonio Spurs as an assistant video coordinator. While that job may seem insignificant, consider that current NBA head coaches Mike Budenholzer, Frank Vogel and Erik Spoelstra also started as video coordinators. Borrego helped win NBA championships in 2005 and 2007 as a video coordinator before eventually becoming an assistant coach under the legendary Gregg Popovich.
From there, Borrego went to the New Orleans Pelicans, where he served as an assistant coach for two years before landing the same job in Orlando in 2012. According to John Denton of NBA.com, Borrego has been regarded as the Magic’s top assistant coach for the last two and a half years, and has been instrumental in the development process of center Nikola Vucevic.
Vucevic, who has averaged over 15 points and 11 rebounds per game for the last two and a half seasons, had great things to tell NBA.com about Borrego.
“J.B. (James Borrego) is my guy and that’s who I’ve worked with on a daily basis, watched the film with and talked about games with,” Vucevic said. “He’s a guy that I have a great relationship with.”
Borrego got off to a great start in Orlando, winning his first game as head coach on Feb. 6 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Not only did the win secure Borrego’s first victory in the NBA, it also snapped an ugly 10-game losing streak for the Magic. After the game, Borrego was quick to reflect on what it means to be an NBA head coach.
“I have a much deeper appreciation for what head coaches do,” Borrego said. “It’s exhausting, it really is.”
The Magic will certainly be facing an uphill battle in the second half of the season, as they currently hold the third worst record in the Eastern Conference. Despite being caught in a depressing rough patch, the franchise has some reasons to be hopeful about the future. The Magic are the fourth youngest team in the NBA, and they play in the mediocre Eastern Conference, making the playoffs much more attainable than if they played in the West.
Orlando’s roster features some talented young players who are still getting acclimated to the NBA’s style of play. While Vucevic has already matured into a legitimate low-post threat, his teammates may still need a few years to find the same sort of success at the professional level. Starting point guard Elfrid Payton is just a 20 year-old rookie, and his back court mate Victor Oladipo is only 22.
Other reasons for optimism include the fact that the team will receive a high draft pick this summer due to their poor record, and promising rookie Aaron Gordon should be fully healthy next season following his foot injury.
It is important to note that Borrego is just an interim coach, meaning the team has not fully committed to him for next season. Essentially, if the Magic finish the season strong and the front office likes what they see from Borrego, they can choose to bring him back.
Otherwise, the team will likely shop around after the season to look for their new long-term head coach. Rumors are circulating that former Chicago Bulls head coach Scott Skiles is interested in the job, and several reporters have indicated that he is the presumptive favorite to land the job.
It would be unfair to expect Borrego to completely turn the season around and lead Orlando to the playoffs, but if he can get the team to play inspired basketball down the stretch, he may stick around for the future. After all, Mike Budenholzer started as video coordinator for the Spurs, worked his way up to assistant coach just like Borrego did, and now he is head coach of the first place Atlanta Hawks.
Whether Borrego remains head coach of the Magic for the next ten seasons or is relieved of his duties after the All-Star break, he is the fourth graduate of USD to hold an NBA head coaching position.
Borrego earned a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in leadership studies at USD, and he joins Bernie Bickerstaff, Eric Musselman and Mike Brown in the group of former Toreros to lead an NBA team.
Current men’s basketball coach Bill Grier offered his thoughts on the hire, sharing his excitement for Borrego. “I’m sure James will do the best job possible with the situation,” Grier said. “He has been a journeyman in the NBA and certainly deserves the opportunity.”