Frank on the hot seat in New Jersey
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As far as ringing endorsements go, this one was about as strong as the foundation for that new arena they're building for the Nets in Brooklyn you know, the one for which they still haven't stuck a shovel in the ground.
"All of us get graded and rated. All of us," Nets president Rod Thorn said. "And that's the time when Lawrence [Frank] will, too. We look at everything at the end of the year."
In a season in which eight coaches have been fired, after a summer in which there were eight other coaching changes (Charlotte, Chicago, Milwaukee, Miami, New York, Dallas, Detroit and Phoenix), there are very few candidates remaining for any kind of a lengthy coaching hot-seat list to accompany Friday's column updating the status of the league's seven interim coaches.
The short list, however, does include New Jersey's short coach with the boyish features who broke into basketball as a ball boy under Bobby Knight at Indiana. His hiring more than five years ago was publicly ridiculed by none other than then-Pistons coach Larry Brown (before he flirted with the Cavaliers, was hired and fired by the Knicks, worked as a consultant for the 76ers and then took his current job in Charlotte).
Yes, Frank has been at the helm of the Nets that long. His tenure is surpassed only by that of Jerry Sloan (21st season with Utah), Gregg Popovich (13th season with San Antonio) and Mike Dunleavy (whose tenure with the Clippers began three months before Frank's with the Nets).
But until Wednesday night's 111-98 victory over Detroit (want to talk about a team with problems?), the Nets looked every bit like a team that had quit on its coach in its two previous games -- a 9-point loss at Minnesota and a 29-point drubbing at home Monday night against ex-Net Richard Jefferson and the Milwaukee Bucks -- extending their losing streak to five games and calling into question whether the Frank era has run its course.
Thorn didn't exactly put out the fire by intimating that there are no guarantees in terms of job security, even for a coach with a guaranteed $4.5 million coming to him next season. And there is a school of thought that Nets management has become a house divided between the basketball side, led by Thorn (who has one year remaining on his contract, too), and the business side, led by Brett Yormark, president and CEO of Nets Sports and Entertainment.
Of course, it wouldn't seem to make a lot of sense for a team bleeding millions to eat another $4.5 million, although if it replaced him with a coach still being paid by another team (e.g. Eddie Jordan, still owed $4 million by Washington), it could pay the new guy a pittance in the first season to minimize the financial hit to the organization.
It'll ultimately be the call of owner Bruce Ratner whether to bring Frank back for the final season of his contract, and it could come down to a matter of which of the Nets' big shots has Ratner's ear: Thorn, Yormark, or the wild card, assistant GM Kiki Vandeweghe, whose influence and opinion on the matter could become crucial.
"Rod is, to me, he's the premier executive in sports because he's very, very honest," Frank said at the team's Wednesday morning shootaround. "Anything he could say to you, he'd say to me. I'll take Rod Thorn any day of the week -- not because he's supported me, but because he's always been honest with me.
"Look, like I said, everyone gets evaluated every year, so this is no different than in the past. I don't need a vote of confidence. What we need to do is play as hard as we can, compete, and try to win as many games as possible. Then, when the season is over, then we're all evaluated," Frank said. "Our body of work for the better part [of the season], up to the last two games, we've been a competitive team. And we're not going to allow these last two games to define the fact that oh, the ship be sinkin' and the Nets don't [care]. That's not the character or the fabric of the team."
The coach looked right on Wednesday in the Nets' convincing 13-point victory over the Pistons, but it still wasn't enough to erase the uncertainty surrounding Frank.
That won't come until later this month, after Ratner has decided whose advice he is going to take. Hopefully, it'll be better than the advice he got at the start of this decade when his advisers were telling him the Brooklyn building would be finished by now. That day -- if it ever happens -- remains years away.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Sheridan, click here.
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