NBA PM: Pistons Smart to Pick Frank
It was amusing to see Lawrence Frank serving as an assistant under Doc Rivers in Boston last season. Not that Frank is too prominent for the position (he had a great reputation as an assistant in Vancouver and New Jersey before becoming head coach of the Nets), but he’s simply too loud to be anything but a head coach. Like Rivers, he’s grown raspy, but also like the Celtics coach, he easily produces more decibels than an arena’s PA system or an opposing crowd. Frank gives energetic hellos, goodbyes, and when he wants your sole attention, he simply takes it.
Assuming that he does become the next head coach of the Detroit Pistons (something most consider a formality at this point), Frank’s ability to drown out all other noise and distractions will be imperative for a team that suffered a major communications breakdown in 2010-2011. Previous coach John Kuester reportedly battled with veterans—namely Richard Hamilton—while struggling to develop younger players like Austin Daye. The extent to which Kuester failed the Pistons doesn’t really matter though. The important thing is that Frank has fixed a team before, and is the perfect candidate to do it again.
The Nets had mystified experts for half a season when Frank replaced Byron Scott as head coach in January of 2004. Despite coming off two consecutive Eastern Conference Championships, Jason Kidd and company were sitting at 22-20 and had lost six of seven games. Whatever Scott had built with that team died completely during an 85-64 loss to the HEAT on January 23rd.
Scott was out, Frank was in, and the Nets responded by reeling off 13 straight wins. The team’s anemic offense sprung to life with a 110-point performance against Boston, a 120-point performance against Orlando and a 105-point effort in Cleveland; but that was nothing compared to the defense. In two games against the Raptors New Jersey yielded a combined 146 points. In fact, the Nets held opponents under 80 points 12 more times during the regular season and four more times in the playoffs. Frank’s future team, the Pistons, scored just 64 points in Game 3 before going on to beat the Nets in seven to advance to the conference finals.
Like in 2004, Frank isn’t inheriting a talentless team. Center Greg Monroe averaged 13.7 PPG, 10.0 RPG and made 58% of his shots after the All-Star break; Daye, Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva can shoot; Tayshaun Prince (if he returns), Ben Wallace (if he returns) and Rodney Stuckey (if he returns) can defend; and rookie Brandon Knight might finally give the Pistons the playmaker they’ve lacked since Chauncey Billups was traded.
Also like in 2004, Frank takes over a team that isn’t far removed from its best years. Yes, the Rick Carlisle and Larry Brown Pistons are done, but there’s still a solid veteran presence in the locker room and a bevy of young talent including Knight, Monroe, Daye, restricted free agent Jonas Jerebko, Terrico White and rookie Kyle Singler.
Yes, there are deficiencies in Detroit. Monroe might not be a pure center and the Pistons finished last season ranking 28th in defensive efficiency.
But that’s what makes Frank such an impressive hire. In 2004-2005, his first full season as a head coach, the Nets ranked fifth in defensive efficiency (opponents averaged 85.9 points per 100 possessions). The team didn’t have a great shot-blocking threat at center (Alonzo Mourning played 18 games for New Jersey before being traded, while Nenad Krstic and Jason Collins got the bulk of the playing time), but somehow Frank devised a way to keep opponents out of the paint and off the boards. Maybe Monroe isn’t the next Mt. Mutombo, but Frank has experience scraping together a very respectable defense.
Detroit needs help offensively too (they ranked 15th in offensive efficiency), and that might not be Frank’s strong suit. During his last three seasons with New Jersey (which were all sub-.500 teams), the team’s defense could no longer compensate for what had become a lifeless offense.
By 2008-2009 the Nets ranked 24th in field goal percentage and 20th in PPG, but ultimately Frank may have been the victim of rebuilding. The Nets started the next season 0-16, and even though he kept his intensity and his jarring sense of humor, Frank was let go before the team won its first game. (He often joked with the media, “Am I getting fired today?!”)
The general feeling about his dismissal in New Jersey was that it was just bad circumstances. The team was transitioning out of the Jason Kidd era, and Frank was simply trying to find a way to win with Josh Boone and Yi Jianlian. Oddly enough, in the midst of the worst time in a coach’s career, the New Jersey native was showing everyone just how even tempered he could be. Frank didn’t appear to feel sorry for himself, even if he deserved to; he just went about everything as he normally would: loudly.
That kind of consistency will be important in Detroit (Frank isn’t calm, but at least he’s consistent) because the Pistons aren’t going to the re-emerge as favorites in the East anytime soon. Rebuilding takes time, energy and clear directives; and if Detroit gives Frank the first, he can easily take care of the other two.
Bulls Have Another Kukoc Brewing?
When the Bulls drafted Toni Kukoc in 1990, they knew he wasn’t going to show up in the NBA overnight. But by risking only the 29th overall pick, they had a relatively sure bet on their hands. The team just didn’t know when it could cash in its chips. As it happened, Kukoc arrived in 1993 and helped Michael Jordan win three more titles before the decade ended.
Now the Bulls have made essentially the same bet on Spain’s Nikola Mirotic, and even if they have to wait a few years again, they might get another chance to pair an elite 6-10 European forward with an MVP guard (in this case, Derrick Rose).
Mirotic scored 29 points and grabbed 11 boards as Spain trounced Italy, 82-70, in the U20 European Championship over the weekend. Mirotic finished the tournament as the leading scorer (27 ppg) and did just about everything else well also (10 RPG, 59.5% from the field, 85.1% from the line and 40% from beyond the arc).
The winner of the Euroleague’s Rising Star Award in 2011 is signed with Real Madrid through 2016, but he is expected to come to the NBA before then if the Bulls can negotiate a buyout.
Check Out: The NFL’s CBA Deal
The Los Angeles Times’ Mark Medina asked a good question: How will the NFL’s CBA deal affect the NBA?
Will the NBA players make the same sacrifices that the NFL players did, or does the presence of revenue sharing in the NFL make any comparisons impossible? What do you think? Will the labor peace spread from the gridiron to the hardwood?
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