Saturday, December 5, 2009

Even The Losers Get Lucky Sometimes

It couldn't have been that easy to forget about them.

Yes, the Nets have finally shown up for the 2009-2010 season. And, it has been interesting to see the reaction from not just Nets fans, but sports fans in general. Since the losing streak became national attention, it seems that every casual fan began rooting for the Nets. I would discuss the streak with friends and co-workers, and even those that were Knicks fans (my sworn enemies) said they were looking for the Nets to break the streak.

After the final minutes of last night's victory, I received several congratulatory texts. In past articles on this blog, I discussed how when the Nets became successful in 2001-02, people would congratulate me (as if I had something to do with it at all). There were shades of this again after the win, but now with a stinging ironic flavor.

Before we move on, let me say a few words about the dearly departed Lawrence Frank. I was a Frank supporter since Day 1. I had gotten sick of Byron Scott, as the rest of the team clearly was. This team had been to two Finals, and now was playing .500 ball? Something was clearly wrong. In steps Frank, who introduces concepts foreign to Byron, such as watching game tape, talking during time-outs, and not sleeping before games. The Nets reel off 13 wins in a row, and are back in the championship hunt. I contend that Frank brought that Nets closer to the championship than any coach, as the Nets took the eventual NBA champions (the Pistons) to a seventh game. The previous Finals appearances ended in four and six games.

I always felt Frank did the most with a poor cast of characters. He yanked career seasons from NBA misfits like Mikki Moore and Boki Nachbar. He squeezed out productive years from aging veterans like Cliff Robinson and Travis Best. There has not been one player of note whose career has skyrocketed since leaving the Nets during this time. Frank's masterpiece definitely has to be the 2005-06 season. Take a look at this roster again. Excluding the players who played less than 10 games, that team had five players who were out of the league less than two years later (Robinson, McInnis, Jackson, Padgett, Murray). John Thomas had to play in EIGHT playoff games due to the lack of depth on that team. And they still won 49 games and got to the second round of the playoffs! The eventual champions, the Miami Heat, took them down, but I can't help wonder if things would have gone differently if Cliff Robinson didn't pick up a bong that week.

Frank was not perfect, but was still an above average coach. I always felt he suffered because he did not delegate enough work to his assistant coaches (something Lord Byron clearly did not have a problem with). However, Byron was flanked by two great assistants - Eddie Jordan and Frank. Once Jordan left, things went downhill fast. Frank's best assistant was Brian Hill - his mentor. Brian Hill was a fine assistant as well, but nothing close to having Jordan and Frank as your wingmen. Although, it should be noted that Brian Hill left this offseason to go to Detroit. While correlation does not equal causation, I think it should be noted how valuable having good assistant coaches is to a team.

Putting the praise and the excuses aside, I cannot oppose his firing. I don't care who you are or what your roster is, an 0-16 record is indefensible. At that point, you need to try everything. But, I had mixed feelings with Kiki coming in to coach.

The "rumored" story goes like this - Kiki never liked Frank. Then Kiki would whisper to Devin Harris about Frank. Harris became the leader of the revolution. Unfortunately, the only people on his side were clowns like Bobby Simmons, Sean Williams, and Eduardo Najera. Since he was fired last Sunday, Frank has become a basketball martyr and Kiki has been painted as a scheming egotist. Is any of this true? I have no idea. But, through my years of watching and reading about the NBA, I have learned one thing - believe every single rumor you hear (even the ones that contradict each other).

I have met both Frank and Kiki in the past, and definitely was more impressed with Frank. He was more friendly and very attentive - I felt like he really listened to what I was saying. Kiki struck me as humorless and slightly defensive. So, while I didn't want to start rooting against the Nets' new coach before he even took the court, my guard was up. This article didn't exactly inspire me either. Shooting free throws for half of practice? Getting laughed at by Doug Moe? This did not sound like a recipe for success.

But, talk is cheap. And all that matters is the Nets have that new number in the left hand column of the standings. Is this another dead coach bounce like critics of Lawrence Frank have claimed in the past? It is hard to say, but it is suspicious that Kiki took over before a stretch of "winnable" games, as opposed to taking over Wednesday at Dallas. I will be on high-alert should more "evil Kiki" stories arise, but for now I have no complaints with the man.

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