NBA: Nets fire Frank
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. ó The New Jersey Nets fired coach Lawrence Frank on Sunday after losing their first 16 games during one of the worst starts in NBA history.
Assistant Tom Barrise will coach the team Sunday night in Los Angeles against the Lakers, when the Nets could tie the record for the worst start if they lose.
The Nets said a permanent replacement for Frank hasn’t been determined.
Frank was in his sixth full season, the longest-tenured coach in the Eastern Conference and the winningest coach in the Nets’ NBA history. But none of those victories came this season, and the team dismissed him with a 225-241 record.
“Lawrence always approached every day with a passion for his craft that was infectious, and his dedication to the game as well as his work ethic are to be both admired and appreciated,” Nets president Rod Thorn said in a statement. “I wish he and his family only the best of good fortune in the future.”
Frank, from nearby Teaneck, N.J., began his career with a 13-game winning streak, the best coaching start in league history. But he couldn’t overcome a losing streak that was even longer, just a game shy of the 17-game skids set by the 1988-89 Miami Heat and the 1999 Los Angeles Clippers.
Plagued by injuries this season, the Nets faced some games where they were missing four starters and suited up the minimum eight players. Still, they played hard and stayed close for most of those games, figuring the wins would come when they started getting some bodies back.
“That’s probably as little talent as I’ve seen anybody put on the floor in the long time with everybody hurt,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Yet they were able to fight and stay competitive. The guy’s done a great job there.”
Despite the losses, Frank was expected to last through the four-game trip out West that ends Sunday, with management wanting to give him time with a regular roster. But they decided it was time for a change after the Nets fell far behind in losses at Denver and Sacramento.
After 31/2 seasons as a Nets assistant, Frank replaced the fired Byron Scott on Jan. 26, 2004.
He quickly turned around a struggling team with his record-setting start, winning Eastern Conference coach of the month honors in February after leading the Nets to an 11-2 record, a franchise-record .846 winning percentage.
The Nets made the playoffs in each of Frank’s first four seasons, advancing to the second round in three of them, before returning to their longtime losing ways while slashing payroll in recent years.
Jason Kidd was traded in February 2008, fellow veterans Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter were gone by last summer’s draft, and only the Kidd deal that landed All-Star point guard Devin Harris brought back much in return.
So after losing in the East semifinals in 2006 and ’07, the Nets stumbled to 34-48 finishes the last two seasons.
Plagued by poor attendance and heavy financial losses while playing at the Meadowlands, the Nets have been looking ahead to a move to Brooklyn. While management could make decisions with that in mind, Frank ultimately paid the price for what was happening in the present.
The deals helped the Nets’ financial future, leaving them with the most salary cap space available for the stellar free agent class expected next summer. But it left the team devoid of talented depth when New Jersey was plagued by injuries early this season.
“I just know that with the lineups he’s had to put on the floor, I don’t think any coach would have done anything better than he’s done. There seriously can’t be people out there who think they were losing because of coaching,” Van Gundy said before playing at New York.
“New Jersey’s front office obviously thought they should have been winning games. Why they would have that expectation, I have absolutely no idea.”
Even if the Nets played well, Frank might not have made it past this season.
Owners will vote by the end of next month whether to approve the sale of the team to Russian Mikhail Prokhorov. If the sale goes through, as expected, Prokhorov could decide to bring in his own coaching staff.
Frank is the second NBA coach fired this season, following his predecessor in New Jersey, Scott, who lost his job in New Orleans.