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Fire Frank?



By Ted Remsnyder
The scene was another dreary Nets home game, this time the finale of the 2007-2008 season against the Bobcats at the Meadowlands. The Nets would rally to win that game in overtime (giving them one more win than the Bulls, who would win the draft lottery a month later), but it was the action of one brave man that would make the night memorable. Sometime in the second half, as the crowd fought off sleep, a teenager and his friend stood up behind one of the baskets and unfurled a large banner that read "Fire Frank." The arena security team, attempting to ruin the fun, quickly came over and confiscated this homemade masterpiece, lovingly printed out and pieced together then unrolled with two giant sticks. The guards ripped the sign apart and gave the kid a warning. Then something special happened. The kid pulled out a second sign, identical to the first, and held that up too. This time the guards rudely ejected him from the arena, but the point had already been made, the banner had cut through the minds of anyone who saw it and nothing could ever be the same.
Most Nets observers have wondered how Lawrence Frank ever got the job in the first place. Ever since he replaced Byron Scott in the spring of 2004 ,while Scott still had fresh knife wounds in his back courtesy of Jason Kidd, he has seemed a curious choice. A little known former team manager under Bob Knight at Indiana University, he was the youngest coach in the NBA then, at only 33. Five years later, he's proven himself to be a serviceable and solid coach, yet uninspiring. After winning his first thirteen games with a team clearly happy to be rid of Scott (who had only gotten the team to two straight NBA Finals the previous two seasons), Frank is now prepared to go below .500 for his career Nets stint, at 223-222 with five games left in this 32-45 season. Which is nearly identical to 2008's 34 wins, with a roster that's been completely overhauled. Of course the Jefferson-Yi deal was a disaster, but Harris and Lopez have been surprises, so it's been pretty much a wash.
The fatal flaw for Frank's Net tenure has been his handling of Vince Carter. He has defended (or sucked up to) Carter at every turn, even when he mails in 75% of the games. This year's team could easily win 40 plus games if Carter gave maximum effort, but Frank has never put Carter on the spot. The only time he dared bench Carter for dogging it was in the second half of a January blowout home loss to the Celtics, but instead of singling out Carter he sat Harris (weeks away from his first All-Star appearance) as well, turning the whole thing into a charade.

Frank has other shortcomings too, and I don't mean his height. He clearly over-coaches, feeling the need to stomp around on the sidelines holding up his hand to script every single play. His development of young players has been suspect as well, yes Lopez has been great, but what about former first-round picks Marcus Williams, Josh Boone, Sean Williams, and Antoine Wright? Also, by this point his act, and message, has grown stale, probably with the players but definitely with the fans. His nonsensical coach speak in every press conference is weary, as is his propensity to blame the defeat on himself. If all these losses really rest on him (and the NBA is clearly a players league) as he claims, why is he still employed?

Sadly for the Nets, they missed their chance to get a top-notch coach when Stan Van Gundy was sitting around in Florida a couple of years ago when Pat Riley pushed him aside in Miami. The Magic were smart to scoop him up, and Van Gundy is a Coach of the Year candidate this season in Orlando. Who else could the Nets get? Stan's brother Jeff would be an improvement, but he is a rich man's Frank, probably too similar. Perhaps Eddie Jordan, the offensive architect of the Nets Finals teams could return. Whoever the replacement is, after another dismal Nets season, it's clear the sign was right.