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In a move that seemed more and more inevitable as another miserable Detroit Pistons season droned on, Lawrence Frank was fired as Pistons coach on Thursday. The former Nets head man had compiled a 29-53 record in his final season with Detroit, and a 54-94 mark overall. No immediate replacement was named, and by all accounts longtime Pistons GM will be given the go-ahead to seek out his seventh (!) head coach since taking the reins of the Detroit front office in full during the summer of 2001.
In Frank’s defense, Dumars did hand him a mish-mash of a roster for both 2011-12 and 2012-13. Dumars wrongly assumed that his batch of homegrown talent mixed with the arrivals of free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva would push the Pistons back into contention back in 2009, and the series of quick-fix veteran additions Dumars chased following that misstep hardly helped. By 2011, the Pistons were clearly rebuilding around talented scoring forward Greg Monroe, but because of the hangover of both an ownership change and salary cap frustrations, Frank never really had even a mediocre outfit to work with.
This doesn’t mean that Lawrence didn’t mishandle the roster. Paying credence to needless age-old wisdom, Frank only gave rookie center Andre Drummond the minutes Frank determined that he earned this year. Instead of riding out the youngster’s mistakes on the court – a necessary move all self-aware rebuilding projects work though -- Frank played Drummond inconsistent minutes despite his obvious gifts (and obvious mitigating factors). How the Pistons’ future was assured by keeping Drummond on the court for just 20 minutes a game (while soon-to-be-gone veteran Jason Maxiell played 24.8 minutes a contest, hurting the team on both ends despite his effort), is unclear.
None of the other Pistons improved under Frank’s watch, either. Whether this is a personal failing of theirs (and, by extension, Dumars’) or the coach’s fault remains to be seen, but the since-traded Austin Daye regressed significantly since his rookie year, Rodney Stuckey went from a starter to an end-of-the-bench-worthy guy shooting just 40 percent in his sixth season, Jonas Jerebko has done much since his impressive rookie year, and Brandon Knight hasn’t panned out thus far. Gordon was dealt in 2012 for a player (and potential helper) in Corey Maggette that Frank didn’t see fit to use, and Villanueva (a likely candidate to be waived this summer) just about confirmed long-held suspicions that he really doesn’t care to do much besides shoot flat-footed jumpers very poorly.
Once again, all of these Piston participants were brought in by Dumars, and it’s hard to conceive a way in which any other coach with any other pedigree would have done much with this mess. It's hard to criticize the Pistons for hanging onto Dumars -- he anticipated a number of NBA trends early in his GM career and put together a championship team in 2004 -- but this is also his roster, his coaches and his record. And that record hasn't earned a playoff berth since 2009.
Dumars is to be credited with developing cap space for the (just as awful as 2009) 2013 free agent season, but we should add the caveat that most of the moves made in order to procure that cap space were in reaction to missteps in the post-Saunders era – namely the contract extension given to Richard Hamilton in 2008, the extension given to Tayshaun Prince, and the Gordon and Villanueva signings.
This is still an enviable job, with a committed fan base, two talented young big men who seem like a perfect offense/defense pairing, and all that cap flexibility. Perhaps, for the legendary Joe D, the seventh time will be the charm.