We already knew that today’s press conference with Joe Dumars and Lawrence Frank would be light on specifics since they were prohibited from discussing players on the roster. How he’ll deal with specific players and roster situations is obviously of the utmost importance, but minus that, I think we got a good glimpse at not only Frank himself, but how Dumars is adjusting and adapting to the team’s new organizational structure. Here are the highlights:
Frank’s sense of humor
When I asked Hayes Davenport of Celtics Hub for some thoughts on Frank after news broke of his hiring, he included this:
He’s a very friendly, very funny guy, and he managed to bring the players onto his side by the end of his first day in camp.
Frank opened the presser with a joke about needing a booster seat, talked about being so ugly his wife doesn’t even like to look at him and he responded to a question about his final two seasons in New Jersey with an, ‘Aw, come on!,’ at the reporter who asked. He also shared this story when asked about never playing the game:
“I was like a bad Hollywood actor, all I heard was cut, cut, cut. (A coach told me), ‘You’ve got a lot of courage, you’re still cut.”
Jokes are great, but John Kuester was a pretty funny guy too and Michael Curry … well, he dressed funny at least. Frank came across as a confident and intelligent guy, but more importantly, even if he couldn’t talk about specific players, he clearly has an understanding of the major problem in Detroit: the fact that the team has lost sight of the defensive toughness and culture that made the Pistons into one of the top organizations in basketball.
On his responsibility as coach:
There is a standard of excellence here, it’s on me, on all of us to reclaim the culture we need to establish Detroit basketball to the forefront of NBA basketball.
On how to build that culture:
First and foremost, culture always starts with a work ethic. Investment vs. entitlement. You get yourself into a lot of problems if people feel entitled. The head coach has to enforce accountability. Every player wants the coach to challenge them but also connect with them.
It comes down to your actions. If you don’t back up what you say, no one will trust what you say. It’s our habits that define us. We have to embody what this city has been about. That starts with the DNA of the players.
On the style the team will play:
We’re gonna be a defense first team, a rebounding team, an attack offensive team. It’s hard to play good defense, it’s a collective effort mindset and trust, it’s about having a system and believing in it.
On what he learned from Doc Rivers:
To me, Doc is elite. Doc won a championship. Doc also was part of losing a bunch of games, all those things helped shape him.
On his own experience in a losing situation in New Jersey:
You define yourself during those periods of time. We all have setbacks, it’s about how we bounce back. This is a results oriented business and I deserved to be fired. I failed (in New Jersey), but I never allowed that to define me as a failure.
On how he connects with players despite never playing in the NBA himself:
I study the game, I love the game. Someone once told me there are four traits that anyone who works with NBA players has to have – competency, trustworthiness, reliability, sincerity.
On whether past actions or performances of players will be held against them:
It has to be a clean slate. I have to earn my way just like they have to earn theirs. Communication has to be honest and you have to be fair and consistent, that’s all players want.
Frank also mentioned that he respects both Brian Hill and Pat Sullivan as coaches, but did say that the team fill those positions based on the following criteria:
In terms of staff, it will be a process. Qualities we’re looking for are – high character, work ethic, passion and energy every day, excellent teacher, lifelong learner. We have to be about what we talk about.
Joe Dumars on Frank
Dumars believes that Frank will be a long-term coach in Detroit:
It’s a very good day for us. We went through a very extensive process, a meticulous, detailed process. When it was completed, it was a very clear choice that Lawrence was the best guy. It was kind of a unanimous feeling throughout the people involved that he was by far the best candidate for the job.
We competed against Lawrence when he was in Jersey and then in Boston last year. You learn to respect people when you have to battle against them.
As we got to know him even better, it became clear that he was the right person for the Pistons job. There’s a sense of relief to have him on board with us.
He’s young, energetic, brings a big personality to the job. He embraces being a head coach and is up for the challenge.
Dumars also noted how Frank is already displaying the work ethic he’s known for:
You want that person (the new coach) in place as soon as possible because you want that culture and environment to start with him on day one. His (Frank’s) first day was Monday and he was here at 5:30 a.m. The guy comes in at 5:30 every morning. You want that in your organization as soon as possible. The current situation (lockout) has no impact on how soon you should get that sort of guy in your organization.
Dumars and ‘the process’
There were a few questions about the length of this process and Dumars noted that it was a result of Tom Gores and the Platinum Equity influence:
It was different in terms of how thorough and meticulous it was. They have a system of how they like to do things like this, especially with a big hire like this. We’re desperately trying to settle into a long-term coach. None of us are happy about the past few years. We were looking for someone we can say will be our long-term coach here. It was an urgency to get the right guy.
Gores’ biggest statement after buying the team was that his job would be to challenge Dumars every day, and it sounds like, based on his comments in the presser, Dumars has adapted to that and even been impressed by the process the PE folks have brought to the team. It’s no secret I respect Dumars a lot, even if I’ve disagreed with most (if not all) of his recent moves. He’s always struck me as a self-reflective person. I think over the last few years, he’s been alone on an island somewhat. He lost right hand man John Hammond to Milwaukee. He lost Bill Davidson. Everyone in a position of power needs people who will challenge them. This is just my own total speculation as Dumars is as close to the vest as it gets, but when he talked about ‘the process’ he seemed almost relieved that there is some structure in this organization again.
I also liked Dumars’ response when it came to last season. Again, he couldn’t talk about much without risking a fine, but here’s what he said when he was asked a general question about the culture:
We don’t have to rehash everything, but you know what you’ve seen. We’re not gonna throw anyone under the bus. He’s (Frank’s) gonna have a lot to do with (fixing) it. He truly becomes the face of what we’re trying to do. I like his energy, I like his spunk, I like that he has a swagger about him. Guys will follow that, regardless of if he played basketball or not.
The fact that the organization never really publicly said anything about the constant bickering, coach-player fights, locker room factions, shootaround boycott, etc., gave the impression that, perhaps, the people in the front office had blinders on. It’s good to see that they fessed up to the dysfunctionality (as much as they could without specifics).
Frank and Dumars have a huge challenge in front of them. I didn’t come away from the press conference with any more confidence that the Pistons can immediately turn things around, but at the very least, I’m confident that Dumars and his new coach have an understanding that a philosophical shift is needed before we can even begin talking about on-court success again.
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