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Lawrence Frank was a good hire, but he’ll need help becoming a great hire

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.

46 Comments

  • Jul 21, 20118:12 pm
    by Druhouse

    Reply

    This is exciting and seems like a move in the right direction. Interested to see how his assitant spots fill out.

  • Jul 21, 20118:17 pm
    by Keith P.

    Reply

    No offense, but this reads like it’s straight from the Langlois spin machine.

    Otherwise… good stuff.

    • Jul 21, 201110:49 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      How is it spin? Dan believed and wrote throughout this process that, after Casey was off the market, he believed Frank was the best of the candidates the Pistons seemed interested in in his opinion. It’s not spin if he’s legitimately supporting something he believes.

    • Jul 22, 20111:49 am
      by Dan Feldman

      Reply

      Keith, just because I praise the Pistons doesn’t make it spin. I think you’d agree that I’m willing to criticize the Pistons when warranted. Conversely, I’m willing to praise them when warranted. If they had hired someone else, my post wouldn’t have been as positive. Just truth (as I see it), not spin.

      • Jul 22, 20115:33 am
        by Laser

        Reply

        if he’s saying it reads like langlois’s signature style, i agree. hard to disagree. if langlois was writing it (and he could have), it would come across as his ordinary BS formula (love the guy, but it’s his job). i didn’t take it as BS. the structure is just very “sports journalism-ey.” i wouldn’t take this guy’s comment as being that critical. i think i know what he’s saying here.

        i’d never say the pistons got lucky here. i mean, he’s the one guy with experience (probably a prerequisite at this point, after two consecutive rookie coaches), who would take the job, who was left, who made me the least uncomfortable. if that’s luck, so be it.

        could be worse. could be woodson. (i’m putting this on a t-shirt. copyright Laser.)

        • Jul 23, 20112:40 pm
          by Dan Feldman

          Reply

          When the Pistons hired Kuester, they were unlucky there weren’t any better candidates available who were willing to take the job. The Pistons certainly didn’t dive right into Kuester, but at a certain point, they realized there weren’t better options than hoping Kuester could figure out how to run a team. 

          When the Pistons hired Flip Saunders, they were unlucky there weren’t any better coaches available. At that point, they were willing to pay big money, and although Flip is a fine coach, for $20 million, there’s often someone better available.

          Considering what they’re offering (I’d guess $3 million per year or less), they were lucky a coach of Frank’s caliber was available and willing to take the job.

  • Jul 21, 20118:37 pm
    by Andre

    Reply

    The spin Doctors will be out for the next week and I don’t care who hired Franks this is a bad hire.

    • Jul 21, 201110:49 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      I don’t know if it will work out or not, but why is Frank a worse choice than the other candidates? There were question marks with every guy they interviewed.

  • Jul 21, 20118:52 pm
    by neutes

    Reply

    I’m a pretty big believer that players win games not coaches at the NBA level. I’m glad Frank got the job for the reasons Dan listed above and that’s about it. He’s not going to be successful with this roster, but hopefully they overhaul the thing before Frank’s tenure goes the way of Kuester’s.

    • Jul 22, 20111:50 am
      by Dan Feldman

      Reply

      Neutes, I agree that players have much more to do with a team’s success than coaches do, but I think both matter. I’d rather have a good coach than a bad coach, and the Pistons got the former.

    • Jul 22, 20112:00 pm
      by brgulker

      Reply

      This.

  • Jul 21, 20119:15 pm
    by Oracle

    Reply

    Glad it’s frank over Woodson… I don’t know about the rest of pistons nation, but I’m tired of lesser qualified coaches with pistons ties getting the nod. Not that past peritmance guarantees future results, but following curry and q with more Larry brown ties wouldn’t sit well with me

    • Jul 22, 20111:53 am
      by Dan Feldman

      Reply

      Oracle, I wouldn’t have had a problem with Woodson because he has Pistons ties. I just wouldn’t have looked at them as a huge positive. And without those Detroit ties counting as a huge positive, how much is left to validate Woodson as worthy? Probably not enough.

      I think we reach the same ends, just through different means.

  • Jul 21, 20119:19 pm
    by Todd

    Reply

    I really don’t see the players that ran over Kuester doing any less to Frank if they are unhappy. The real question is whether or not the powers above him actually stand up and support him. Its time for the Pistons to return to being a model organization, like they once were.

    • Jul 22, 20111:51 am
      by Dan Feldman

      Reply

      Todd, isn’t whether Frank’s bosses support him part of the Pistons being a model organization? Are there any model organizations where management leaves it coach hanging out to dry?

  • Jul 21, 20119:51 pm
    by Jacob

    Reply

    I had been hoping the Pistons would go with Frank. I think he truly was the best available candidate. He’s the first defensive minded coach we’ve had in a while. He’ll stress toughness and give the players a much needed kick in the pants. I think he’ll earn their respect. Great post Dan!

    • Jul 21, 201110:53 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Well, I think Curry and Kuester were defensive minded as well. They just didn’t bring with them a structured defensive system like Frank does.

      • Jul 22, 20115:40 am
        by Laser

        Reply

        god, discussing kuester or curry in terms of being “defensive minded” is like trying to assess the advanced cognitive functions of a house plant. those guys were so feckless and out-of-their-depth and utterly impotent that you can’t get that far with a straight face. what they focused on was irrelevant, because they never accomplished anything.

    • Jul 22, 201110:51 am
      by Jacob

      Reply

      Those guys said all the right things when it came to defense, but the results on the court did not reciprocate that. I agree that they didn’t bring a structured defensive system to the team and that tells me that they weren’t quite “defensive-minded.” Kuester was in charge of offense in Cleveland (and probably looked better than he actually was by having LeBron) and Curry…well….he should never have been a head coach in this league.

  • Jul 21, 201110:44 pm
    by Jayg108

    Reply

    As Oracle said I glad it’s him over another 2004 assistant or former Piston. Whenever the next season happens, I guess we’ll find out about the support Frank has from above and from way up above. If the boys give him grief or don’t respond, I think Gores will give Frank the backing. I also wonder how they broke it to Joe that he was overruled.

    Hope he brings back the defense to the D

    • Jul 21, 201110:51 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Maybe he wasn’t overruled. I mean, I believe the reports that he wanted Woodson more, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he didn’t want Frank at all. My hope is that there was a long and healthy discussion about both finalists and they arrived at some sort of consensus on Frank, even if Dumars may have preferred Woodson. Probably overly optimistic thinking on my part though.

      • Jul 22, 20111:55 am
        by Dan Feldman

        Reply

        Patrick, I’m not sure your thinking is overly optimistic. I just can’t see the Pistons hiring someone Dumars didn’t want. I, too, hope your scenario is accurate, but I think there’s a good chance it is.

  • Jul 21, 201111:29 pm
    by just win

    Reply

    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 definitely can use some marketing.  Maybe he should consider you.  Moreover, he must be a pretty special guy.  I can’t think of anyone from this side of the track getting this type of opportunity with this marginal experience, saved that he probably had some favors along the way.

    • Jul 22, 20111:57 am
      by Dan Feldman

      Reply

      JW, maybe it wasn’t special favors. Maybe he’s just really talented and hardworking.

  • Jul 21, 201111:48 pm
    by Dan

    Reply

    People shouldn’t focus on that terrible start with the Nets. That was a historically terrible roster with a bunch of it’s better players injured to start the season. Plus, they lost a one possession game to the Timberwolves that would have ended the 18 game significantly earlier. And if I recall correctly, the Nets defense during that start was a top 10 unit despite the injuries to core players and the losses they accumulated.

    • Jul 22, 20112:00 am
      by Dan Feldman

      Reply

      Dan, I don’t know the specific ranking early in the season, but the Nets’ defense ranked 25th that year — better than the 26th-ranked Pistons and much better than New Jersey’s last-place offense.

  • Jul 22, 201112:54 am
    by C-Foe

    Reply

    I can see Joe Dumars favoring Woodson a little more just because you can’t discount the experience you get from winning a championship.  I know many were against hiring “another Larry Brown disciple”, but Woodson did go into Atlanta and helped to turn that team around.  Personally I had Woodson and Casey as my #1 and #2 on my wish list, but that is no longer relevant.
    In addition to what Dan mentioned about Frank needing management support (which is very true), Frank also has to work with players who have been subjected to 3 years of losing.  The Pistons are still a relatively young team.  If his system does not produce more than 30 wins then his coaching ability will get questioned, regardless of the team’s situation.  My main concern is whether the young players will continue to develop and improve under his coaching staff.  The fact that he’s rumored to hire Roy Rogers has my stomach churning already. :-(

    • Jul 22, 20111:56 am
      by Dan Feldman

      Reply

      C-foe, what’s wrong with Roy Rogers?

      • Jul 22, 20111:06 pm
        by C-Foe

        Reply

        Dan, I just would like to see us hire coaches (assistant or head) who have been exposed to winning organizations in the NBA either as a player or a coach.  I think it matters because it helps to shape the winning culture that you talked about in one of your earlier articles.  To me, Roy Rogers was an average player on average teams (at best).  I don’t know about his D-League success so I can’t comment on that.  So I question if an average NBA forward can really make Monroe, Jerebko, Daye, and Villanueva better.

  • Jul 22, 20111:03 am
    by Satchel

    Reply

    He turned Devin Harris into an all-star and coached the Celtics defense… this is a great fit. It’s the next best thing to getting Carlisle back.

  • Jul 22, 20115:31 am
    by gmehl1977

    Reply

    I was tied with Frank and Woodson so i am happy either way. I am just glad that we finally have someone who can get to work and get this team going in the right direction. Any chance of some posts on Franks defensive schemes and offense he will be likely to run?

    • Jul 22, 201110:59 am
      by Dan Feldman

      Reply

      Someone much more qualified than me to write that type of post is already working on it.

  • Jul 22, 20116:55 am
    by d_ronii

    Reply

    Tell Charlie V that I am looking for a Power Forward who can play down low, post, and rebound.

  • Jul 22, 20117:36 am
    by Murph

    Reply

    Let’s hope Franks can win some games without Jason Kidd.

    • Jul 22, 201111:01 am
      by Dan Feldman

      Reply

      I wonder if Mike Woodson will ever get a chance to prove he can win without Joe Johnson.

  • Jul 22, 20117:45 am
    by detroitpcb

    Reply

    Well, lets hope he wowed them with his presentation of how he is going to turn Rodney Stuckey into an all star two guard and how Austin Daye is going to be his #2 scoring option and how he will develop Knight as a point guard while using Knight’s shooting stroke off rotations from Stuckey and Daye penetrations into the lane. Let’s hope he said Ben Gordon has no place in my rotation – get me a shot blocker i can pair with Greg Monroe so i can construct a defense (with JJ, Monroe, Daye, and another big who can play defense the Pistons should be able to design a scheme were they switch everything. With Stuckey and Knight they should get good pressure on the ball)

    • Jul 22, 20118:37 am
      by Murph

      Reply

      Austin Daye as the #2 scoring option? 

  • Jul 22, 20118:10 am
    by RyanK

    Reply

    All this concern about how the players will receive him…  I hope Joe D does the right thing and eliminates any players that question his decisions on these matter before the start of next season.  CV having criteria about our next coach…ha ha ha…how about we make some demands about his game.  If he was the player we need the coach wouldn’t have to be a Red Auerbach/Harry Potter hybrid to make this team win.
     
    Hopefully with the new CBA teams will have the option of canning players who aren’t living up to their contracts.  Guaranteed money is a major problem.  I don’t have  a problem with players making big money if they play as hard after they ink the deal.  But far too often you have guys who only work hard in contract years.

    • Jul 22, 201111:03 am
      by Dan Feldman

      Reply

      Ryan, if the next CBA doesn’t have some type of amnesty clause (and I don’t think it will, at least not one that also removes a contract from the cap), how do you suggest Dumars “eliminates” the malcontents? It’s not as simple as just wanting to do it.

      • Jul 22, 20116:39 pm
        by RyanK

        Reply

        Trade they.  That’s how Joe D corrected errors in the past.

  • Jul 22, 201110:37 am
    by DSV

    Reply

    I agree with RyanK… I don’t think it’s right to spend so much time wondering whether the coach will be able to “handle the players” when you look at the caliber of players we have on the roster. Sure when we were the grizzled veteran winning team who needed only someone to stand in the coaching position it was fine to wonder whether the coach could manage the personalities. But with this lot? Please. Whichever whiny uncontrollable overpaid player(s) who don’t respect the coaching decision need to be sent a copy of the teams’ records the last 3 years and be told to look in the mirror.

    • Jul 22, 201111:06 am
      by Dan Feldman

      Reply

      DSV, not that easy. So, if you send the players their record, then what? You think they’ll magically whip into shape?

  • Jul 22, 20112:05 pm
    by brgulker

    Reply

    If this team were a new defensive scheme away from being competitive in the Playoffs, I’d be a lot more excited about this.

    As it stands, I’m pretty apathetic. This was probably the best choice, all things considered, but I don’t think it will matter all that much in terms of winning and losing any time soon.

    • Jul 23, 20112:36 pm
      by Dan Feldman

      Reply

      Judging any moves by whether they make the Pistons competitive in the playoffs will probably leave you dissatisfied with all of them. There’s no magic fix. It’s all part of a process. As long as the Pistons keep making moves that will get them closer to the end goal, I’m happy.

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