Fans of the game “Clue,” probably love a nice “whodunit.” In the case of the New Jersey Nets, there is a lingering mystery surrounding the question, “who killed Lawrence Frank?”
Frank’s dismissal was described by many as a “mercy killing,” but there must have been some malicious things going on behind closed doors that led to his ultimate demise. How else do you explain management bringing him back after last year and supporting Frank as his entire roster was decimated with injuries to start this season, only to turn around and fire him while the team was on the brink of matching the worst start to a season in NBA history? It’s no secret that most followers of the NBA think Frank got a raw deal in all this.
After reading a number of press reports that past 48 hours, I’ve been able to boil down the list of suspects to two. Both are high-profile individuals fully capable of killing a coach, and both have established motives. Let’s look at the evidence, shall we?
In an interesting twist of fate, the point guard the Nets acquired for Jason Kidd, a renown “coach killer,” may actually be largely responsible for Frank’s termination.
There’s been a documented turning point in the relationship between Devin Harris and Lawrence Frank. In a blowout loss against Boston last January, Frank benched Harris for a “lack of effort.” Instead of coming back motivated, Harris was clearly stunned, telling reporters at the time that he didn’t know how he’d respond after the benching because “it’s never happened before.”
In an interview with reporters yesterday, Harris praised Frank on his way out, but brought up their past issues in an attempt to prove that the two had put things behind them:
"Every player and coach have disagreements at some point. This summer we kind of put that behind us, kind of started out fresh” and "We had our disagreements last year, and this year we took a totally different approach to it. It was important for the younger players to see the relationship we had.”
Seems a bit odd that Harris would basically admit that he harbored at least some resentment towards Frank for the duration of last season. And when you consider that Devin was injured for most of training camp, and the bulk of the first part of the regular season, I think it’s a little tough to say that Harris “proved” everything had been smoothed over between the two, because he hasn’t been on the court long enough to demonstrate anything.
Even more curious were some cryptic comments from the Star Ledger’s Dave D’Alessandro yesterday. Before Kiki Vandeweghe was named the next head coach, Dave D. speculated that whoever replaced Lawrence Frank would have to “sit Devo down and ask him what it will take for him to turn the clock back to last November, because they need that more than ever right now. Put it to him straight: What can be done now that the last coach wasn’t doing?”
D’Alessandro is around this team almost every day. It’s clear with this statement that he’s seen a change in Harris. So, the point guard’s talk of mended fences may be a bit cheap here.
However, Harris is not alone on the suspect list. While, it’s easy to label an athlete a “coach killer,” our next suspect is a man of a higher authority than Devin Harris, and is therefore, potentially more instrumental in Frank’s firing.
Kiki is known around the league as a great developer of talent – who could probably claim responsibility for the growths of Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas and Carmelo Anthony in Denver. He also reportedly has a great relationship with Harris, Yi Jianlian and Courtney Lee – interestingly enough the three centerpiece players he traded for in the Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter trades.
What’s also interesting about Vandeweghe is that it became abundantly clear in Frank’s final days that the two had significant tensions – and if anybody wanted Frank out, it was Kiki, not team president Rod Thorn.
When Kiki was named head coach yesterday, Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc Spears wrote: “sources (said) Frank resented the GM’s intrusions into his practices and locker room. Sources say Vandeweghe wanted to replace Frank last season, but team president Rod Thorn resisted the change.”
Then another nugget from Dave D., which should not be taken as a throwaway line: “Over the next 65 games, Vandeweghe can at least be sure that the new head coach will follow management’s agenda, something he wasn’t always sure about when Frank was coaching a crippled, makeshift roster.”
So reading between the lines here, Kiki was not a fan of Frank’s roster management. So maybe it wasn’t just Sebastian and I who were upset about seeing too much Bobby Simmons and Trenton Hassell this season? Kiki wants to play the kids. We’ll have to see when he’s manning the bench with Del Harris on Friday night if guys like Courtney Lee and Sean Williams see a jump in their playing time.
So there are your two suspects ladies and gentlemen. While the reasons and merits for Frank’s firing will likely be debated for some time – at least until the Nets start winning some games and put this awful start behind them – it’s hard to ignore the roles Kiki Vandeweghe and Devin Harris may have played in his dismissal. Both were adequately motivated. Both could have done it.