Lawrence Frank looks nothing like a typical NBA head coach.
He never played in the NBA. He never played professionally elsewhere. He never played in college. He never played in high school. A Teaneck, N.J., native, Frank’s playing career ended after stints with his local Catholic Youth Organization and Jewish Community Center teams.
He’s not quite 5-foot-8 and his boyish looks have drawn Doogie Howser comparisons.
Larry Brown has taken shots at him, saying the Nets firing of Byron Scott and subsequent hiring of Frank in 2004 indicated New Jersey’s point of view was, “Look, anybody can coach.”
But all that explains precisely why Lawrence Frank deserves to become the Pistons’ next head coach.
There are no certainties in this game, and nobody can guarantee Frank will help the Pistons. Even Joe Dumars, Tom Gores and Dave Checketts, who have much more knowledge of the coaching candidates than we ever could, can’t know how this will turn out. But they took the right steps to hire the guy who will give Detroit the best chance of succeeding.
The Pistons’ search was wide – they also interviewed Mike Woodson (twice), Bill Laimbeer, Patrick Ewing and Kelvin Sampson – and Frank rose to the top because he was the best candidate. Woodson, Laimbeer and Ewing all had extremely accomplished NBA careers, and without a doubt, their playing careers helped them climb the NBA coaching ladder.
Maybe those three deserve to be head coaches. Maybe they don’t. I don’t know.
I know Frank does.
Frank never had a boost. He’s a self-made coach who outworked and outsmarted the ex-jocks who competed for the same openings.
Obviously, playing in the NBA should be viewed as a plus for potential NBA head coaches. But it shouldn’t be a mandate, and it probably shouldn’t count as much as it does.
So, when rolling the dice on a coaching vacancy, I’d rather take the person who clearly earned the job – not somebody whose candidacy is aided by an overrated criterion.
But even with his odds better than Detroit’s other candidates, Frank won’t necessarily succeed in Detroit.
Why Lawrence Frank needs help
To start, the roster is still a mess – too many shooting guards, not enough interior players, too many players who could use major minutes, not enough players who necessitate major minutes. That’s probably a multi-year fix, and I won’t lambaste Frank for flaws he inherits with this team. I hope, and think, the Pistons won’t, either.
But Frank must help the players progress. Nearly every Piston could reasonably be expected to play better than he has the last year or two. For the players to improve under Frank, he must first get them to buy in.
That won’t be easy.
After years of Joe Dumars enabling them, the Pistons’ players have grown accustomed to getting their way. At this point, they must surely believe they could get Frank fired if they so choose.
Frank did a reasonably solid job of relating to his players when he coached the Nets, and he may have improved that skill working under Doc Rivers in Boston this year. Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:
Expect L-Frank to be a much improved coach in Detroit. Working w/Doc helped in player relations. Celtics vets were very impressed with him.
I sure hope that’s the case, because Frank will have his hands full in Detroit.
When listing his desires for the Pistons’ next coach last month, Charlie Villanueva said he wanted someone who “played the game.” You can scoff and ask, “Who is Villanueva to make such statements, anyway?” But Frank will likely enter a locker room full of players with a similar mindset. And as just a cog in the machine, Frank can’t win them over on his own, especially when they still smell blood in the water from John Kuester’s meager presence.
For Frank to truly succeed in Detroit, he needs the backing of the Pistons’ management, ideally Joe Dumars. But that gets a tad complicated when you consider Dumars reportedly preferred Mike Woodson to Frank. Today, ESPN’s Marc Stein is still standing behind his initial report:
ESPN.com reported last week that the Pistons had narrowed their search down to Frank and Woodson and that Frank had made a strong impression on the Pistons’ new ownership. That nudged the Boston Celtics assistant coach ahead of Woodson, who sources said was the preferred choice of longtime Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars.
As ESPN.com reported last month, Checketts was installed as a team consultant by Pistons owner Tom Gores when Gores finally completed his purchase of the team. Strong meetings with Gores and Checketts, sources said, enabled Frank to win out over a field that also included three assistant coaches with no NBA head-coaching experience (Kelvin Sampson, Bill Laimbeer and Patrick Ewing).
How hard of a line will Dumars set for the players? He’s always been weary of interfering, and that trepidation would likely increase with a coach he didn’t truly want. Plus, how far will Dumars stick his neck out – dealing with unhappy players isn’t fun – for someone he didn’t believe was the best man for the job.
I doubt the Pistons would have hired Frank if Dumars was completely against the idea, and I’d guess Dumars gave his blessing to the Frank hire, even if Woodson was his top choice. As Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported, recommendations from Rod Thorn and Doc Rivers, two men Joe Dumars respects, helped Frank land the job.
But this situation could create an awkward shift of power if Frank’s main support ends up coming from Gores, not Dumars. That wouldn’t necessarily harm or hurt Frank, but it would certainly create chaos throughout the organization.
Of course, support from upstairs alone won’t guarantee success. Frank must stand on his own merits, too. His bosses just better ensure that if Frank holds up his end of the bargain, that’s enough to keep the players satisfied.
The rest is up to Frank.
Lawrence Frank is capable
Lawrence Frank is just 40 and spent a season serving as the lead assistant for one of the NBA’s best teams and coaches. As a rising young assistant coach, he appears qualified for a chance at a head-coaching job. When you consider he already served as a head coach for parts of seven seasons, his résumé looks incredible.
Sure, he holds a losing career record (225-241), but that swung to the wrong side of .500 because the Nets gutted their roster to sell the team in 2009. Don’t get hung up with his 0-16 start in 2009. If New Jersey had started that year 2-14, hardly a difference from reality, you probably wouldn’t remember it. And the Nets didn’t exactly prove Frank was the problem by going 12-54 the rest of the season.
Few coaches can win without good players, and Frank doesn’t meet that incredibly high standard. So what? If the Pistons could’ve hired Phil Jackson or Red Auerbach, they would’ve.
With limited funds, limited players and a reputation for giving coaches limited time on the job, the Pistons couldn’t hire just anyone. But, somehow, they got someone whose teams always played sound defense, whose teams always played tough, whose teams always played smart.
Yes, the Pistons really lucked out.
But Frank didn’t. He earned this.