Ruthless, Desperate Kidd Demotes Mentor

Lawrence Frank, Joe Prunty
Assistant Lawrence Frank (right) will no longer have an active role in Nets games and practices. (AP)
Lawrence Frank, Joe Prunty
Assistant Lawrence Frank (right) will no longer have an active role in Nets games and practices. (AP)

In a brash move of supreme arrogance, brilliance, and desperation, Brooklyn Nets head coach Jason Kidd announced shortly before the team’s Tuesday night game against the Denver Nuggets that lead assistant Lawrence Frank would no longer man the sidelines next to Kidd, demoting him to doing “daily reports” on the team, far away from the bench during games and practices. Kidd cited “differing philosophies” on basketball as the reason, despite having a professional and personal relationship with Frank for nearly a decade. The move came as the Nets flailed at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, far from the championship aspirations the team predicted two months earlier.

The change was a stunner. Frank was with the team during shootaround with no indication he’d be gone by gametime. Like one of Kidd’s passes in his prime, the former point guard fired it out of nowhere and hit his directed target before anyone had any idea what was happening.

Kidd’s demeanor came in stark contrast to this summer, when he spent two weeks begging Frank to join him on the sidelines, even appearing on Good Day New York to vie for Frank’s presence in Brooklyn. But sitting at the podium Tuesday night, Kidd quietly, almost casually, laid down the hammer shortly before the Nets were thoroughly deconstructed 111-87 by the Denver Nuggets in first of nine home games in their next 12 contests.

Though Frank came on after Kidd was hired, Frank was his guarantee, a package deal that ensured Kidd would have the questions about his steep learning curve shushed. Frank was Kidd’s former coach when Kidd played his final years in New Jersey, and left the team as its franchise NBA wins leader. Indeed, Frank reportedly netted a six-year deal worth $6 million, the final two in the front office, solely because Kidd felt he required Frank’s presence.

But after one month with Frank on the sideline, Kidd decided he’d had enough — if he’d ever needed him at all. His tone of appreciation for his former coach turned cold. “I’ve been doing it since day one,” Kidd implored when asked about Frank’s impact on his first few months. I have. No one else.

Jason Kidd, Lawrence Frank
Kidd, Frank in training camp (AP)
Though his competitive streak spilled out on the floor last week, this was truly the first coaching glimpse into Kidd’s utter ruthlessness. The rumblings began in Summer League, rolling louder with each passing practice that Frank ran hands-on, instilling the defense vocally with Kidd and Frank’s fellow assistants in the background. With each article that bemoaned Kidd’s lack of impact, the consensus perception followed: Frank was the Cheney to Kidd’s Bush, ruling the show behind the scenes. In Frank, Kidd laid his safety net without understanding the consequences of perception.

Kidd ended that Tuesday afternoon, pulling the plug on his lead assistant faster than Brooklyn pulled the plug on Avery Johnson one season ago. “Once he turns on you, he turns,” an anonymous source told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports about Kidd.

Fans bemoaned Kidd’s quick trigger finger on a struggling Frank-led defense. Second-year point guard Tyshawn Taylor, starting that night at Kidd’s former position, only learned of the move shortly before we did, and wasn’t even sure of the specifics, wondering aloud if Frank was fired outright.

With Frank gone, Kidd’s got what he wants. He’s got autonomous control. He’s got the loudest voice in the coach’s room, and his assistants now know that safety is fantasy. If the only former NBA head coach on the staff, Kidd’s former coach, mind you, can get sent to the cubicle, then just about anyone can. Knocking Frank out ensures that you know who’s calling the shots. Frank isn’t making those substitutions, Kidd is. Frank isn’t telling the team where to go on defense, Kidd is. This is Kidd’s meth enterprise, and Walter White just took care of Gus Fring the only way he saw possible.

This is his ship. There’s no mistaking it now. Frank may have held the reins on the team’s league-worst defense, but now with him off the bench, the focus turns on Kidd. The consequences of failure and the rewards of success fall on his shoulders. He still has a star-studded cast of assistants, but the message to Frank is a message to everyone else: this is my empire.

Had he demoted Charles Klask, no one would have noticed. But booting the coach that quelled the questions shows Kidd’s true desire: the Nets will win or lose on his terms, and his terms alone.