I am an admitted Lawrence Frank fan.
I love his work ethic and philosophy on defense. That being said, with the Detroit Pistons' 39-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs on March 3, this could be a sign that it seems the players have just given up. Instead of blaming Frank, the Pistons should be blaming themselves.
Pistons players have complained about previous coaches since the beginning of the post-Larry Brown era. The players have continually blamed coaches including Michael Curry, Flip Saunders and John Kuester, rather than taking responsibility for themselves—which has always ended with the coach getting fired.
In the NBA, once a team tunes a coach out or doesn't buy into his message anymore, that coach won't last much longer. I don't know for sure how the Pistons players feel about Frank, but some of their quotes are a good indicator. While the players may not say it outwardly, they are throwing Frank under the bus by talking about not being prepared.
After the Spurs game, guard Brandon Knight came out and spoke about playing hard, as David Mayo at MLive.com wrote:
Knight said he was "aggravated" by the fact the Pistons, 62 games into the season, sometimes still find themselves "trying to find a way to push guys to want to play harder, just to have respect for the game."
"I'll never be irritated at my teammates," Knight added. "Just moreso [sic] the lack of respect for us playing. It's not only them but myself. We all have to play harder. To give ourselves a shot to win against one of the best teams in the NBA, you can't come out and lollygag and half-play. You've got to come out and play hard.
"Everyone didn't come to play as a team. Our agenda wasn't on the right page."
By talking about playing harder, Knight is indirectly referring to Frank and the coaching staff. Coaches get most of the blame when a team loses, but when players talk about not being on the same page, there is a severe problem with the game plan and the preparation.
Charlie Villanueva seconded Knight's comments when he spoke to Mayo about the team not being ready:
"It's always hard to play the last game, going back home from a road trip," said Charlie Villanueva, whose double-double was the Pistons' only bright spot. "That's no excuse. We should've been ready to play and we weren't. Simple as that."
Frank spoke to Mayo about the players' effort and put this loss on the players and himself:
"The normal person, every day, would be dying for the checks that we get and we have to earn them," Frank said. "And tonight, quite frankly, we didn't. I didn't, we didn't."
As Frank also told Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News after the Spurs game:
"I don't get this gauge of 20 games left. … if you're the player or man who counts the days as opposed to making the days count, that's not a professional," Frank said. "That's amateurish. We don't have guys like that so I don't expect that. Tonight was a disappointing performance."
Considering the Pistons' road mark of 8-21 and their 4-19 record against the Western Conference with a four-game Western swing approaching next weekend, it could be a bit of a danger zone.
"It's one game but when you look at it in a series of what's happening…we have to really be committed because it only gets harder," Frank said.
The problem here is that it's not just one game. The Pistons are 23-39 for the season including a 3-7 record over the past 10 games. When the Pistons traded for Jose Calderon, they had an outside chance at making the playoffs.
Now they can kiss the playoffs goodbye.
Some fans might look at the Pistons' loss to the Spurs as just one game and point out that the Spurs have the best record in the NBA (47-14). This is true, but the Spurs didn't have Tony Parker, who is out with an injury. Losing by 39 points to any team is embarrassing.
This isn't the first time players have complained about Frank. In November 2012, now-traded forward Tayshaun Prince openly questioned Frank's coaching in a quote given to the Detroit News (via SI.com):
“Energy ain’t the only thing,” said Prince, noting the poor possessions to begin quarters that plague this team. “That isn’t my decision but we need to figure out some things to do when teams are making runs to get us a good opportunity at the rim or the foul line.”
“If I was Coach, I would’ve made a decision sooner than he did,” Prince said. “A 6-0 run, call a timeout. Bam-bam, we come back out, nothing happens, bam (make a substitution). If you gotta make a choice, you have to make a choice. (He) went too long.”
Prince was traded to Memphis, but now his words could come back to haunt Frank at the end of the season. Right or wrong, someone will probably pay for the Pistons' poor performance this season and chances are it could be Frank.
While Frank needs to assume some responsibility, he is right in saying that the players need to be professional and give 100-percent effort at all times. After the Spurs game, the players need to look in the mirror first.
The 20 games left in this season will be a deciding factor in how the players truly feel about Frank. Regardless of wins and losses, the players have just added a subplot to this disappointing season.
*All records are as of March 3