Detroit Pistons coach Lawrence Frank is in a bit of a pickle. He took his hits working under Bob Knight during the famed coach’s years at Indiana. He took over the New Jersey Nets when the team was still considered a championship contender. He grabbed the Detroit Pistons’ head coaching gig on the heels of an ownership change and a promise to end personnel stagnation, but also only a few years’ removed from the franchise’s time spent ruling its conference.
The result of his first rebuilding year in Detroit resulted in the drafting of project center Andre Drummond; a defensive-minded 7-footer that can change games but also work in an, umm, “inimitable” fashion. Since the opening week of the season Frank has been criticized from near and far for only playing Drummond 18.5 minutes per game despite his sterling per-minute production (for any age) and jaw-dropping (for his age) Offensive and Defensive Win Share numbers.
Frank, understandably sick of all the questions, responded to it all on Wednesday:
"When we don't play Andre 18 minutes, the reporters (who cover the Pistons regularly) have pictures of me up all around town -- and the fans, too," said Frank, who used that benchmark because [Toronto Raptors rookie Jonas] Valanciunas played 18 minutes in the Raptors win Tuesday at Cleveland. "But the thing is, there are certain things that we're privy to things that maybe the general public isn't.
"There's a lot of things we see and understand the big picture. Not that there's a right way or wrong way, but it's the way we choose it. Plus, there are other guys who may also be doing their jobs as well."
Frank went on to point out that it’s a “delicate balancing act,” and “not easy” working as an NBA coach balancing disparate roster members, while reminding us that “it’s a long season.” And we could not be more agreeable with his articulation of the push-pull life as an NBA head coach.
The issue we have, regardless of where Drummond’s minute allotment ends up on a particular night, is the approach. The one that demands that good behavior away from the games will be rewarded with big minutes. It’s the right thing to do, on any spiritual level, but probably not the best approach when it comes to 48-minute games that are often changed by 7-footers staring down guards who might think twice about entering the paint.
Lawrence Frank knows how this game works better than most of us, but in opposition to Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale (possibly his polar opposite in several ways), he might be setting himself to be the guy before “The Guy.”
Frank might not be around -- and I understand this is a terribly cynical and awful thing to say -- to see the benefit of all his tough love. It’s usually the hard-ass smart guys that have to do all the dirty work and answer all the tough questions before the smoother types take over to lead a team out of its formative stage.
Frank, who watches more game tape in a morning than most of us will in a week, understands this league. He knows it better than the person writing this column, and the overwhelming majority of anyone who will read it. We’re assuming that Hubie Brown doesn’t have wi-fi.
The Pistons coach is also confusing his role as “life coach” and “Pistons coach,” though. If he thinks that limiting Andre Drummond’s minutes because of behind the scenes misdeeds will work out in the end, well, Frank is basing his guidance on a success rate that flirts with zero percent. It’s more or less an NBA bylaw – if players that were rumored to have attitude issues enter the league and are immediately hit with tough love, most never really learn to love their jobs.
There are exceptions, to be sure. Most come in the form of daffier types that really like and respect the players taking minutes from them. And there is so much to respect about Pistons big man Jason Maxiell – a 6-7 banger who has made a living out of using smarts and savvy and baby-eating abilities to carve out a career at a position that his height should preclude him from playing at this level – but that only works for so long.
(And, yes, we’re aware that Maxiell is technically listed as a “power forward” by both the Pistons and most scouting websites. It’s an ostensible designation.)
It’s a long season. Heck, if Kwame Brown’s continued NBA permanence is any indication, it’s a long career. This isn’t about laying the foundation for 2022, though. This is more like, considering the fact that Drummond was born two months before Michael Jordan retired to play baseball, smilingly asking the detention attendee who his favorite bands are even after he keyed the principal’s car. Work with the kid, people.
It’s good to respect what Lawrence Frank is doing. There’s obviously something going on behind the scenes with the Pistons, a terrible team that he’s been handed, and Frank has been adroit and tactful in all of his comments about Drummond – up to and including this recent admission. He truly is in an impossible situation, left with gifting his young center minutes even after what could be a day’s worth of practice and/or off-court misdeeds. And that guesswork isn’t a shot at Drummond, because most of us weren’t exactly giving our all at 101 classes and/or entry-level jobs at the age of 19, either.
Even after this short and seven-week sample size, though, it might be time to take a different approach. It’s certainly best to hope for the finest possible solution sometime late in 2012-13 or a few more years into Drummond’s career, which is to see the man respond to Frank’s minutes ceiling with respect and admiration and give the Pistons’ fan base a needed return to glory.
That response isn’t common, though. And if it eventually happens, the initial taskmaster unfortunately isn’t around to witness it first-hand.
Just something to pass along, as we add to the ringing in Lawrence Frank’s ears.