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Archive → July, 2011

Video: Discussing Lawrence Frank’s challenges as new Pistons coach for ESPN

I did a short video report for ESPN on the Pistons’ decision to hire Lawrence Frank last night. Hopefully I’ve come a long way since the last time I was an on-camera personality. Also, yes, I am in a basement. But before you commence with the ‘LOLZ blogger in his mother’s basement’ jokes, know this: I own my own basement, thank you very much.

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.

Lawrence Frank plans to hire Roy Rogers

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

In anticipation of an offer, Frank has been working on assembling a staff over the past two weeks, league coaching sources said. Celtics assistant Roy Rogers, who was on Frank’s staff with the Nets, is the most likely to join him in Detroit.

I don’t know much about Rogers yet, but Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm does:

Glad to hear Frank tapping Roy Rogers for assistant. He worked with the Toros back in 07-08. Incredibly smart guy who can reach players.

Pistons to hire Lawrence Frank

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

Lawrence Frank is Detroit’s choice to be its next head coach, and formal offer imminent within next 24-36 hours, league sources tell Y!

I’m happy. Frank was my top choice once the Raptors hired Dwane Casey.

Maybe the Pistons are stalling their coaching search to hire someone other than Mike Woodson or Lawrence Frank

Chris Kiyak emailed me this, and I thought it would make a tremendous guest post. –Dan

In Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press’ recent article about the Pistons’ coaching search, this caught my eye:

If the organization is waiting for the NBA lockout to end before hiring a coach, which seems unlikely, it probably would take finalists Lawrence Frank and Mike Woodson out of the picture. Coaches want to know where they’ll be working, not spend the summer in limbo.

But if the lockout isn’t a factor, what’s the holdup? Perhaps there’s another, heretofore unidentified candidate. No one is saying.

For what it’s worth, I still think the Pistons will hire Lawrence Frank or Mike Woodson. But if it were all about coming to a consensus on those two, I think it would have been decided by now. Although I understand both Joe Dumars and Tom Gores are looking to get it right, neither Frank nor Woodson will command $25 million and necessitate a huge buyout if things go awry.

The cost of paying Frank or Woodson during the buyout probably doesn’t justify waiting to hire one, but the cost to hire an alternative might justify waiting.

Plus, if Detroit doesn’t rank Frank and Woodson that much higher than Kelvin Sampson, then there’s really not much downside to risking Frank and Woodson walking. The upside of waiting is new candidates might be available later in the offseason.

To me, that’s the only reason I see waiting. If Frank and Woodson were the only variables in the equation, the Pistons would have solved it by now.

Here are five targets for whom getting lockout clarity might influence the decision making:

Erik Spoelstra

If Micky Arison is prodding Pat Riley to take over the team for a championship run, the parameters of the next CBA will make a big difference in whether the Heat can build or must break up. If the league goes to a hard cap of $65 million, the Heat could probably add a missing piece (maybe two) for an all-out shot at the title. Arison’s prodding, plus the ability to add pieces might be enough to get Riley to hold clipboard for at least one more season or two.

If Spoelstra were let go, he would probably be considered a better coaching candidate than either Frank or Woodson.

Jeff Van Gundy

Mark Jackson’s hire virtually came out of nowhere. With an extended lockout and the potential of a $45 million hard salary cap, Van Gundy would have no interest in taking any NBA head-coaching gig. He obviously loves his work as an analyst at ESPN, and it’s hard for him to leave it. But, if the lockout were settled reasonably, could he make the Pistons’ list?

He’s an ideal candidate in terms of defensive principles, toughness, hard work and a Xs and Os. He has experience (and successful experience). Would he walk away if convinced he’s Joe Dumars’ guy? (I don’t think so, but I think it’s worth adding.)

Larry Brown (again)

Larry Brown has three things working against him:

  • He’ll cost a lot of money.
  • He’s a short-term asset
  • He’s a flake

If you get past those five things, he could be a candidate. He would be the ideal coach for Brandon Knight (and possibly make progress with Rodney Stuckey). He has a proven track record, commands respect of the locker room and maximizes his talent better than most coaches. His rift was mostly with Bill Davidson, not Dumars. Could a reunion be possible? (Unlikely, but not impossible)

Nate McMillan

Portland fired Kevin Pritchard and Rich Cho fewer than 12 months apart. That’s pretty quick work for GMs – especially two of the better evaluators of personnel in the league. Last I checked, Portland still hasn’t hired a permanent replacement.

Will the next GM want Nate McMillan to return? The Blazers probably won’t fire McMillan until they gain some clarity about the new CBA. If they do, would Detroit pounce on McMillan?

Jerry Sloan

I’d also add Jerry Sloan just out of my pipe dream, but I think Jerry summed it up when he said:

“I’ve had confrontations with players since I’ve been in the league,” Sloan added. “There’s only so much energy left and my energy has dropped.”

He’d also be a short-term solution. At 69, how many more road trips, tirades and ass chewing does he have left in the tank?

But maybe, just maybe, with more time off, he’d consider returning to the NBA.

Sebastian Pruiti scouts Brandon Knight

Sebastian Pruiti of NBAPlaybook.com wrote a very interesting scouting report on Brandon Knight.

An excerpt of the strengths section:

Despite not being a crazy athletic ball handler like a Derrick Rose or John Wall, Knight simply has a knack to get into the lane with relative ease.  He has a quick first step and and uses hesitation/misdirection moves very well, allowing him to get his defender on his hip and get by him on his way to the paint.  Off of the catch, Knight loves using the jab step and it is easy to see why, he does a great job of using it to catch his defender leaning one way or the other and then takes advantage, going by him with the dribble:

Again, unlike a Derrick Rose or a John Wall, Knight isn’t going to explode to the rim and finish with powerful dunks.  He’s simply not that type of athlete.  However, that doesn’t mean he isn’t able to score once he gets into the paint.  According to Synergy, on shots around the basket Knight shoots 62.4%.  Knight has a great touch and he loves to use that touch when shooting a variety of floaters over bigger help defenders:

An excerpt of the weaknesses section:

Knight always seems to take one more dribble than he should when he is in passing situations.  He takes a little too long to identify the open player and by that time it is too late to make the pass, but that doesn’t keep Knight from trying.  Also, Knight doesn’t do a great job handling hard traps when coming off of ball screens.  We mentioned how much of a scoring threat Knight can be in PNR situations, and because of that, teams started trapping him coming off of ball screens.  Knight had a really hard time making passes out of these traps, turning the ball over 9.5% of the time when the defense commits to him as he comes off of ball screens.

Check out Pruiti’s post for more analysis and videos that back up everything he says.

D-League socks remind Ben Wallace of having to keep the lights off growing up

Vince Grzegorek of the incredible Uni Watch blog posted this excerpt from fringe NBA player Lance Allred’s new book  (hat tip: jayg108):

LeBron: “Look at this guy!”

Ben Wallace: “What?”

LeBron: “He’s wearin’ his D-League socks. Someone get this sumbitch a new pair of socks.”

Me: “Thanks, Bron, but I am okay. I wear these socks to remind me where I came from.”

LeBron: “Man, if I was doing that, my socks would have no toes.”

Ben Wallace: “I would be playing basketball in the dark. Don’t you dare turn on that light boy! Wasting the electric bill and all!”

Me: “All apologies, fellas. A comparison of socioeconomic backgrounds was not my intent. Your shot, Mr. James.”

Pistons’ schedule allows for plenty of rest

The Pistons’ good luck will continue if the NBA uses the schedule it released Tuesday. NBAstuffer.com analyzed the schedule, and here a few Pistons highlights:

  • The Pistons have just 10 back-to-backs on the road, third fewest in the league.
  • With just one set of four games in five nights, Detroit is tied for the fewest.
  • The Pistons are tied for fourth most games with at least three days of rest.

Check out NBAstuffer.com for a complete breakdown of the NBA’s schedule, including how the Pistons rank in every category.

Greg Monroe, like Will Bynum, Austin Daye and Charlie Villanueva, is open to playing overseas

Greg Monroe is now the third Piston to say publicly that he’d at least consider playing overseas should the lockout continue. Austin Daye and Charlie Villanueva both said they’ve thought about it. Will Bynum was even reportedly negotiating with his former team in Israel.

Monroe spoke with Benjamin Standig of CSN Baltimore about it:

“It’s something I’m still thinking about,” said Monroe, who shined for the Detroit Pistons last season. “It’s definitely an option.”

The power forward played alongside current Hoyas Nate Lubick and Aaron Bowen on Saturday.  If he wants to once again join forces with DaJuan Summers, his former teammate with Georgetown and Detroit, Monroe will need to head across the Atlantic.

New Jersey Nets star Deron Williams made headlines with his bold move to sign with a professional team in Turkey, but it’s fringe NBA talent like Summers that is more representative of those headed outside U.S. borders.

In Monroe’s opinion, a cross-section of NBA players is certain to follow if the outlook for the upcoming season looks bleak. He could be one of them.

“If nothing changes, I definitely do think you’ll see a lot more guys going overseas,” Monroe said.

What potential matchups are you most excited to see on the 2011-2012 NBA schedule?

I was one of five writers who discussed the release of the NBA schedule in today’s ESPN five-on-five. Here was my favorite question:

3. Pick a game you’d add to the ESPN/ABC Christmas Day lineup.

Note: The tripleheader currently includes Celtics-Knicks, Heat-Mavs and Bulls-Lakers.

Patrick Hayes, PistonPowered: Clippers-Wizards. We get a matchup between perhaps the two most athletic non-Dwight Howard frontcourt players in the league in Blake Griffin and JaVale McGee; we get Kentucky teammates John Wall and Eric Bledsoe reunited. And who cares if there’s no defense? The Bulls, Celtics and Mavs will play enough D in the other games to make up for it.

All five questions are below. Feel free to answer some or all in the comments.

1. Which game are you most excited to see in 2011-12?
Full schedule here and Zach Harper’s viewer’s guide here.

2. Are the Bulls and Mavs good choices to kick off the new season?
Note: If not, please pick a matchup you’d like to see. If yes, then why.

3. Pick a game you’d add to the ESPN/ABC Christmas Day lineup.
Note: The triple-header currently includes Celtics-Knicks, Heat-Mavs, Bulls-Lakers.

4. Which team would you like to see on more national broadcasts?
Note: Not everyone has League Pass.

5.  Which team would you like to see on fewer national broadcasts?