July 21, 2011
Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Detroit Pistons are set to hire Lawrence Frank as their next head coach. And Pistons boss Joe Dumars might be getting his next head coach selection right this time. Of course, we've been wrong before.
Former hire Flip Saunders? He ran a midrange-styled offense and encouraged zone defense. On a Pistons team full of midrange shooters and long-armed and active defenders, it seemed like a 65-win fit. Michael Curry was a cerebral as all get-out NBA vet who learned under some of the smartest in the game. John Kuester was the man who apparently made the Cleveland Cavaliers' offense less soul-crushing to watch. All of these guys seemed perfect, at the time.
What might be less perfect is Dumars. The man was ahead of his time in working through cap relief deals starting with ascension to the head of Detroit's line in 2001 (after a year spent learning on the job), and he was spot on in the activity that made it so Detroit could enjoy an NBA championship in 2004 and a run of six straight Eastern Conference finals appearances. But his missteps -- from the coaching hires to Darko Milicic(notes) to the Allen Iverson(notes) trade/Rip Hamilton extension to the mess that was the summer of 2009 -- have been well documented and rightfully criticized. Even if, save for the Hamilton deal, they seemed like the right thing to do.
Frank's hire doesn't have to be his last chance -- nobody has the feeling the new ownership group in Detroit is about to turn Dumars out on his ear. But that doesn't mean Joe isn't entering Nervous Time as his Pistons keep fading from relevance.
To hire someone like Frank, though, speaks volumes.
Finally flush with the prospect of actually getting to spend money on either a club sandwich on a scouting trip or an actual head coach, Dumars could have broken the bank and made a showy hire. Instead, he went with the smartest guy in the room. Frank possesses a brilliant basketball mind, coupled with the love and ambition needed to keep adding to that sort of internal data. Dumars has never been about trading or signing or hiring types that will look good in the papers, and that's to his credit. And this time he's likely pounced upon a star-less hire that will make a difference.
Because Frank knows his stuff. It's easy to point to him as the next Tom Thibodeau, especially as we all saw Frank pouncing the sidelines to the left of the Boston Celtics' bench last season, pointing out anticipated play-calls as Thibs did for years prior. Not only does Doc Rivers know his stuff (let's not easily point to Doc's No. 2 every time we want to credit those Celtic wins), but Frank has coached before.
He's famous for starting his coaching career with a pretty good New Jersey Nets team that was better than the 22-20 record Byron Scott left it with when he was fired in 2003-04. Frank started off his Nets tenure with a 13-0 record, and finished it with an 0-16 run in 2009-10. Both disparate records were the function of players either tuning in and tuning out. He, and those teams, weren't as good or as bad as either record.
But Frank is good. I have no idea what he's going to do with the mess of a roster (old guys, prime guys, young guys, project guys … good luck) that Dumars has put together in Detroit, but as is the case with Dwane Casey in Toronto, Frank will likely be as strong an asset as anyone on the roster he's charged with leading.
Don't slough that off, as you look at Dumars' history. Joe Dumars knows how to build a winner, and as it is with all of us, he often gets caught up in doing what's right as amplified by the context and need of a particular situation. Bad timing often results in bad moves. I rip on GMs without hesitation, but Dumars' history is littered with caveats and types that seemed perfect at the time.
Lawrence Frank, a man who is as obsessed with this game as much as we are, seems perfect at any time.