#17: Lawrence Frank

#17: Lawrence Frank

Lawrence Frank is the only coach in NBA history to begin his coaching career with 13 consecutive wins.

Lawrence Frank is also the only coach in NBA history to end his tenure with a team with 17 consecutive losses.

This, my friends, begins and ends the Lawrence Frank tale.

An average basketball fan looks at Lawrence Frank on the sidelines and sees something unexpected. Basketball coaches are supposed to be tall, handsome men, with powerful voices and controlled emotions. They’re supposed to be ex-players, or at least guys who have been involved in the game for years on some surface level. Basically, they’re supposed to be Phil Jackson clones.

Enter Lawrence Frank, a 5’8″ (ballpark), slightly portly, balding redhead with no playing experience outside of high school, instructing men twice his size on basketball techniques such as boxing out and proper post position. I wouldn’t be surprised if a casual fan saw him on the court and wondered if he’d wandered out there by accident. Lesson: looks can be deceiving.

Frank ended his career at 225-241, though if you discount that final awful season it’d stand at a perfectly even 225-225. It says something about a franchise when one of its best coaches couldn’t even scrape a .500 record in over 400 games, but I’d argue that the record says much about the cards the front office dealt him — particularly later in his tenure — and I think Frank played those cards about as well as he could’ve.

Though it’s certainly true that Brook Lopez was not impressed:


Lopez

Frank wasn’t a Zen master. He screamed on the bench. He cussed on live television. He cracked awkward jokes in press conferences. He fluctuated between feuding with his star players — benching Devin Harris and Vince Carter during the second half of a blowout in January of 2009 — and receiving glowing praise from them:

He wants to win. He’s an X’s and O’s guy. He works his butt off. I think sometimes he gets a little too excited. I tell him all the time to calm down, but he never listens to me. I say ‘Relax, everything will be okay.’ … I think he’s been great in my development. He’s given me life … an opportunity to show the world what I have to offer as a player. … I’d tell the truth (to Thorn). I’d tell him how I feel about it: I think he’s been great. – Vince Carter

Obviously he was very big in my development — taking the chains off, per se — and letting me go, allowing me to do some of the things I was capable of doing. I think he’s a good coach, and we’d love to have him back next year. – Devin Harris

For what it’s worth, in every full season Lawrence Frank coached in New Jersey, the Nets finished with a record at or above their pythagorean win-loss expectation: +6 in 2004-05, +4 in 2005-06, +2 in 2006-07, +7 in 2007-08, and even in 2008-09. That difference could be attributable to luck, as how coaches impact their teams statistically remains an inexact science. But by all accounts Frank, though imperfect, was a tenacious worker and a brilliant basketball mind, sometimes putting in 20-hour days at the office. It’s not surprising to me that the team did a little better than expected every year with Frank at the helm — even in that final year, the Nets were projected to decline precipitously post-Kidd and didn’t.

Frank scored a job as an analyst briefly after leaving New Jersey, then replaced Tom Thibodeau on the Boston Celtics bench as an assistant to Doc Rivers. Once the NBA season officially starts, he’ll be the lead man in Detroit, trying to turn around a broken franchise. After the way he helped Brook Lopez’s development in his rookie season, you have to like Greg Monroe’s chances.

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