Firing Lawrence Frank May Cost Parsimonious New Jersey Nets Ownership in 2010

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst INovember 30, 2009

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 21:  Head coach Lawrence Frank of the New Jersey Nets reacts against the New Orleans Hornets on January 21, 2009 at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2009 NBAE  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Boyish looking basketball coach Lawrence Frank lasted through all of his New Jersey Nets' agonizing 16 consecutive defeats.

Why did ownership pick the eve of what would be a dubious record-tying 17th loss in L.A. to fire him?

Why now, after most players and Thorn rushed to his defense?

Lost in the talk of how Frank was not responsible for the squad's winless mark is what his ill-timed dismissal could mean for the franchise next summer.

Many had speculated that his job security might be in jeopardy if the futility continued.

When a team loses this much, someone must pay the price. The coach could not escape liability for the epic struggles.

Since hoops execs cannot lay off players and ownership rarely slaps itself on the wrist, the coach usually takes the brunt of the blame.

New Orleans Hornets Owner George Shinn made Byron Scott the fall guy after the team's paltry 3-6 start. The Chris Paul-less squad responded in the first week or two of GM Jeff Bower's coaching tenure.

Sunday night, the Sacramento Kings drubbed the Hornets 112-96 at Arco Arena.

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For Bower, the honeymoon is over.

Scott was not without his flaws. His playbook had become as predictable as Roland Emmerich's disaster films and players openly complained that he spent more time on the green with his drivers and putters than he did in the green room studying game tape.

His control-freak demeanor alienated most of the roster, and fans griped about his low tolerance for the mistakes of youngsters, especially Julian Wright. When management decided to pull the plug two seasons after a Southwest Division title, Paul was Scott's lone ally in the organization.

News flash to Shinn: The opinion of the franchise player kind of matters. How many tickets would the owner sell without Paul?

In any discussion of franchises that get it, the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs should surface.

The two West powers have secured a combined eight championships since 1999, and both rosters feature first-ballot Hall of Famers and devoted fanbases.

Phil Jackson is already enshrined in Springfield. Gregg Popovich will someday join him.

The Nets' knee-jerk, owner-driven verdict on Frank puts the franchise in the opposite category of incompetence.

Frank's unlikely coaching career began with 13 straight victories.

The Nets made the playoffs in each of his first four seasons and advanced to the second round in three of them.

His tenure ends with 16 miserable losses.

He won over Jason Kidd the way Scott could not, even after back-to-back NBA Finals appearances.

The current squad, among the association's least talented and most depleted, responded to his demands to play hard.

The players seemed to work as hard as Frank did.

He often manned the sidelines in the season's first month with the league-minimum eight players.

Guard Chris Douglas-Roberts has spent as much time battling the swine flu as he has NBA talent.

Devin Harris missed 10 contests.

Who could have won with this caustic cast?

Not Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, who lamented Frank's disposal when asked about it by the Associated Press. Not Jackson. Not Popovich.

If not those top-flight coaches, then who?

This is not a Scott and Frank pity party.

Both coaches will resurface with other teams soon enough. They should each have plenty of dough to last them until their next gig, if they should choose to accept one.

Instead, consider this a warning to Nets ownership.

"Lawrence always approached every day with a passion for his craft that was infectious, and his dedication to the game as well as his work ethic are to be both admired and appreciated," Nets president Rod Thorn said in a statement released by the team.

Thorn, like Frank, could be gone before next summer. The man who transformed a loser franchise into a title contender with his hoops know-how will be gone if the penny-pinching bosses say so.

The Nets president did not want to ship out Kidd, Richard Jefferson, or Vince Carter any more than he wanted Frank to go.

In this economy, a general manager will do anything to keep a job, even if it means donating talent to slash payroll.

After the blockbuster trade to acquire Harris from the Dallas Mavericks, things went downhill for the Nets.

Now, the financial flexibility Thorn reluctantly touts with Kidd, Jefferson, and Carter elsewhere is a euphemism for a fire sale.

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov hopes owners will approve his bid to buy the Nets next month.

Then, the team might move from its financially challenged dump in the Meadowlands to a posh palace in Brooklyn. Until any of this happens, it's a pipe dream.

What superstar would sacrifice the prime years of his career to wallow in an asbestos-infested swampland? Sorry if I am skeptical about the Nets' pending move, but how many years has this Jersey exit been discussed?

The arena's preliminary design has undergone so many facelifts that the facility might as well be named after Kenny Rogers. There's stadium plastic surgery, and then there's idiocy. Call this the latter.

Most of the people who occupy the land where this supposed basketball Mecca would stand don't want to move.

Put yourself in LeBron James or Dwyane Wade's shoes.

Do you want to become the sole savior for an organization that has no idea what the hell it's doing or do you want to win championships? Wade won a title with the Miami Heat. Owner Mickey Arison spent big to deliver Shaquille O'Neal to South Beach, and as the "Big Diesel" promised, he helped the explosive guard conquer four playoff rounds in 2006.

Since James' rookie year in 2003, the Cleveland Cavaliers have reached the Finals once and the Eastern Conference Finals twice. Owner Dan Gilbert has shown a similar commitment to spending big when necessary.

What could the Nets offer James or Wade today that the Heat and Cavs could not?

Today matters because it looks like New Jersey will be stuck here for the rest of the season, mired in a losing funk, with no slam-dunk coaches to replace Frank.

The Nets and Hornets should have waited to fire Frank and Scott until they had interested replacements with superior credentials. To those who consider me nuts, name any coach on the open market better than those two.

Jeff Van Gundy enjoys more job security as a TV analyst than he ever would in either locale. Avery Johnson could make sense in New Orleans, if Shinn wants a hometown stalwart on the sidelines. In a recent article about the possibility of such a marriage, I said the Hornets had to give him a call.

I also dubbed Johnson a risky hire, given his penchant for big-game coaching failures. He has a lot to learn if he wants to stick with another franchise.

The Nets, however, matter more in this discussion since they will have as much money to spend as anyone in 2010.

They want James, maybe Chris Bosh, too.

If the crown jewels of next summer's free agent class want to win as much as they say, gimmicks will not sway them.

James does not need his own cable channel in New York. He already has one that reaches most TV-viewing households in the U.S. It's called ESPN .

He can be best buds with Jay-Z wherever he plays, even in Cleveland.

With the Internet as popular as ever, James does not need to live in a larger market to be a global icon. It's called Nike and YouTube, folks. Sometimes, we misread what superstars want. James has not asked for more 24-hour coverage or a massive mural in another city or an arena that looks like a cross between a spaceship and a futuristic prison.

Like Wade, with his prime years ahead, he wants more cracks at the Larry O' Brien trophy. Why would either star leave proven playoff winners for an empty Brooklyn promise stalled in Jersey?

Stars want stability, respect, and the opportunity to finish with more Ws than Ls. Lots more Ws.

Frank's pink slip leaves the Nets in an unstable state. Interim coach Tom Barrise could not stop the slide Sunday night at Staples Center. Now, a decision no one in the organization outside of ownership supported, makes the product less attractive to fans and potential free agents.

If the threat of bolting across the Hudson River was not enough, ownership has taken to boneheaded tactics to sell tickets.

A winning club never offers replica jerseys from players on opposing players in multi-game packs.

Tim Duncan offers the best example of why stability matters. In the sweltering summer of 2000, Magic execs courted him like crazed fanatics. They flew him to Florida in a lavish private jet, wined and dined him, and promised years of title contention alongside Grant Hill. Thankfully for San Antonio, Duncan opted for the sure thing. He knew he would get his best shot at more rings if he stayed a Spur.

Another tipping point: he detested the "no family members allowed" policy on the Magic's charter. A no-no for a dedicated family man for sure. Duncan never wanted royal treatment or expensive steaks or Pinot and Cabernet.

He sought the situation best for his family and one in which he could compete for championships.

Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford won over Duncan with pie charts, graphs, and sincerity. Sometimes, candor trumps grandiose.

The Spurs model works because the basketball operations staff runs the operation, and the coach never worries about his job.

Constancy mattered to Duncan, and it should matter to James and Wade.

With Frank out the door, no end to the losing in sight, and a vacillating future, the Nets look like an increasingly dangerous destination for an otherworldly baller in search of perennial contention.


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