When a death row inmate begins his walk on “the green mile” toward the gallows or the gas chamber or the electric chair, guards yell “Dead man walking.” (At least that’s the way it happens in the movies.) That’s what Lakers fans could have hollered tonight when Lawrence Frank and his winless New Jersey Nets stepped onto the floor at Staples to face the 12-3 purple & gold. But, once news leaked that Frank was likely to be replaced by the time the Nets tipped off against Dallas on Wednesday at the IZOD Center, ownership of the New Jersey franchise did the humane thing and put him down.
The official firing took place at 2:38 PDT as a team press release reported that he has been “relieved of his duties.” Nets President Rod Thorn says that assistant coach Tom Barrise will serve as interim coach for tonight’s game against the Lakers, but that no decision has been made about a permanent replacement. Sources are indicating that GM Kiki Vandeweghe may ultimately be the guy who takes over for Frank.
Back on November 12 with his team off to an 0-12 start, Frank spoke to reporters before tipping off with the Knicks and joked, “This is like facing the guillotine squad.” The blade has officially fallen. Frank is the winningest coach in Nets history with 225 wins versus 241 losses, and he did lead them to 4 straight postseason appearances.
The weirdest part of his tenure in New Jersey is that when he took over the Nets, he won his first 13 games as head coach. Now he departs after 6 1/2 years with a 16-game losing streak. To his credit, he has never blamed his players for the awful start. When asked recently if he agrees with the old axiom that you are what your record says you are, he agreed.
"Yeah, especially since I have the utmost respect for coach [Bill] Parcells, and it’s basically his line. I feel more sorry for our guys that 0-12, the blemish that comes with that, why it’s a story because you’re 0-12, when it’s eight guys who truly have worked their tails off. And if they were coming in half-assed at practice or not focused at shootaround, then I’d say 'Hey, there’s not much hope.' But they’re not. They work every single day. These guys care. So it’s more I feel bad for them because of the blemish, and I‘ll take 100 percent responsibility for where we’re at because these guys have worked their tails off, and I do believe in habits, and if we continue to have thesse habits, we don't allow frustration to lead to a lack of confidence and a lack of faith, I think we will break through. But again, we’re 0-12. We are. And that’s on me."
In advance of this summer’s monumental free agent season where guys like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh could all be available, the Nets have stripped down their roster, so this isn’t entirely Frank’s fault. In order to create the cap room available to chase a marquee star, you’ve got to clear an awful lot of meaningful talent. The Nets have only $18.8M in guaranteed salaries for 2010. That would give them between $31M-$33M for a potential shopping spree, and New Jersey (ultimately Brooklyn) is one of a handful of teams that could conceivably sign King James.
The team that the Lakers will face tonight is trying to avoid tying the all-time record for start of the season futility. A win by LA will make the Nets 0-17, matching Miami’s 1988 and the Clippers’ 1999 start. Last year’s leading scorer Devin Harris has been limited by a sore groin, playing in only 6 games and managing to start only 3 times so far this year (he scored 25 in Friday night’s loss at Sacramento). They also have a credible 7-footer with Brook Lopez (18ppg-9rpg) and emerging 2nd-year shooting guard Chris Douglas-Roberts (17ppg-5rpg), but that’s about it.
Tonight should be a one-sided laugher for LA. If you’ve got to play a back-to-back, it helps if the 2nd game is against the worst team in the league.