Lichtenstein: In Defense Of Jason Kidd’s Reassignment Of Lawrence Frank
By Steve Lichtenstein
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After that, your guess is as good as mine as to what Lawrence Frank jots down next.
Frank, who Nets coach Jason Kidd lured to Brooklyn last summer to become his right-hand man on the sidelines, was “reassigned” by Kidd yesterday as a prelude to yet another Nets debacle, this time a 111-87 blowout by high-flying Denver at the Barclays Center.
So instead of attending practices and helping out on the bench at games, Frank will be doing pretty much what I’m doing now—writing reports evaluating what he sees, starting with the Nets’ 8th loss in their last 10 games that dropped their record to a ghastly 5-13.
Except there’s a bit of a discrepancy in our pay grades—the Nets will still be on the hook for his six-year contract at about a million bucks per year.
Never mind his prose — as if Frank was ever worth that as an assistant coach.
This will be the second time that Kidd has begged for and then later recanted with the man he has called a good friend. Back when Kidd was a Nets icon in 2004, he reportedly marched up to the Nets brass and demanded the head of coach Byron Scott, who had only piloted New Jersey to back-to-back appearances in the NBA Finals.
The Nets replaced Scott with the 33-year old Frank, who, after winning his first 13 games, oversaw the Nets’ gradual slide down the Eastern Conference standings. By February 2008, Kidd had seen enough and lobbied to be traded. The Nets obliged by sending him to Dallas, where he won his elusive championship ring three years later.
Frank, meanwhile, managed to hold onto his gig until he started the 2009-10 season by losing the first 16 games. After a year working with Doc Rivers’ staff in Boston, Frank got another shot as a head coach with Detroit the last two years. Again, the results were unremarkable, with the Pistons showing no improvement under Frank’s leadership.
But Kidd, who was hired by Nets general manager Billy King only 10 days after announcing his retirement from his playing career, needed to quickly find an assistant with experience so it would like the Nets weren’t going to be run by the inmates who had previously burned through two coaches in a six-month span.
Kidd, again, wanted Frank, who reportedly had to deal with some family matters but soon after came to an agreement that made him the league’s highest-paid assistant and also promised him a front office job towards the end of the term. Frank was designated as the de facto defensive coordinator and was the loudest voice when NBA TV visited Nets training camp at Duke.
And what have the Nets received for such largesse?
Only one of the worst defenses in the league, by just about any metric. The Nets are last in points allowed per 100 possessions, last in opponents’ three-point field goal percentage and third from last in defensive rebound percentage.
So they don’t get stops, don’t contest the three-point line, and, when the opponent does miss a shot, they have a hard time preventing them from gaining another possession off the glass.
But other than that…
This is all by design, folks. Back when he was a head coach, Frank’s teams were notorious for neglecting the opponent’s three-point shooters. Yes, protecting the paint is a priority, but simple math proves that 40 percent three-point shooting allows more points than 50 percent from inside the arc.
For all the good work done in the interior by center Brook Lopez in blocking and altering shots, there is collateral damage. Lopez has been told to leave his man to help so often, it forces his teammates to scramble to rotate properly, which leads to loads of uncontested three-point shots and second-chance opportunities.
The Nets as currently constructed by King are not athletic enough to play that way. The glut of injuries, specifically to point guard Deron Williams, who does a much better job at denying penetration than either Shaun Livingston or Tyshawn Taylor, has further depleted the Nets’ depth.
Then again, many teams are being forced to play through another injury deluge. Check out the Nets’ last four games, three of which ended in defeats: The Lakers built a 27-point lead and held on without Kobe Bryant. The Rockets, with Jeremy Lin sidelined and James Harden limited to 9 points due to a sore foot, had the game won by halftime. The Nets did manage a win in Memphis, but had to survive a second-half scare despite not having to deal with the Grizzlies’ power tandem of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
And last night the Nuggets didn’t need the services of two starters, center Javale McGee and swingman Danilo Gallinari, to turn the second half into a dunkathon.
No, the Nets weren’t exactly world-beaters when they were whole (or close to it), losing to perennial bottom-feeders like Cleveland, Orlando and Washington.
Which is why I am not so mournful over the Frank demotion. There were reports that the Kidd/Frank relationship deteriorated over the last month, with Frank privately denigrating Kidd’s coaching ability and usurping Kidd’s authority to others on the staff.
Hopefully, as Kidd explained in his press conference, this was all about basketball and not something related to Frank’s personal situation.
While Kidd has made a habit of playing games with the truth (as evidenced by his injury status reports and initial explanation regarding what happened with “cupgate”), he has cause from a basketball perspective.
However, Kidd now is on his own, as he said will not be looking for a replacement on the Nets’ bench.
With the equally-moribund Knicks coming to Barclays tomorrow night for a national TV game, I get the feeling that the team that loses will soon be posting a job opening anyway.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.