Posted Nov 30 2009 1:55AM
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- The winless New Jersey Nets fired coach Lawrence Frank on Sunday, several hours before they matched the worst start in NBA history with their 17th straight loss.
Assistant Tom Barrise temporarily replaced his friend, but the Nets remained 0-for-the-season with a 106-87 loss to the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Though Frank's departure has been widely expected while New Jersey lost every game in the season's first 4 1/2 weeks, several of Frank's players claimed they were stunned when their energetic coach showed up at their morning team meeting in Los Angeles not wearing his Nets gear.
"It's tough, because he was the hardest worker on the team," center Brook Lopez said. "He's so passionate about what he does. It was a rough situation, and he did a great job of not using our injuries as an excuse. He came in every night and had us prepared."
The Nets won't choose a permanent replacement for Frank until after they return from their four-game road trip Monday. Their next game is Wednesday at home against Dallas, when the Nets must win to avoid NBA ignominy.
Frank's 225 victories are the most in franchise history, and he had a career .500 record before this disastrous, injury-plagued season. He also was the longest-tenured coach in the Eastern Conference, but his steady work couldn't repair a trade-depleted roster featuring eight players who already have missed multiple games with injuries.
"He wasn't dealt a royal flush," said Rafer Alston, who joined New Jersey in the June trade sending star scorer Vince Carter to Orlando and gutting the Nets' payroll. "It's almost like he had a pair of 2's, and he tried to fight."
Frank, from Teaneck, N.J., replaced Byron Scott in January 2004 and began his career with a 13-game winning streak, the best coaching start in league history. His final losing streak was even longer, though he was fired hours before New Jersey matched the 17-game skids by the 1988-89 Miami Heat and the 1999 Los Angeles Clippers.
Frank led the Nets to the playoffs in four straight seasons from 2004-07, but New Jersey missed the last two postseasons with identical 34-48 records.
Barrise was a longtime advance scout for the Nets who became an assistant when Frank took over the club. Barrise was a head coach during a three-season stint at Ramapo College in Mahwah, N.J., in the early 1990s.
"It's a tough day," Barrise said. "It's a somber day. We've been together 10 years. It's the business we chose, and it happens. We move on. ... I think we've played motivated. I think we were competitive every night. I think what we need is to get healthy. As we get these guys back, it's almost like a whole training camp again."
Barrise didn't change the Nets' starting lineup or game plan in what could be a one-game stint in charge. Nets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe or assistant John Loyer are considered the top candidates to replace Frank for the rest of the season.
Barrise stood, clapped and cajoled for nearly every minute of what might be his only head coaching opportunity in the NBA, never worrying that it came against the mighty Lakers.
"You jump in the deep end, and the sharks are there," Barrise said. "You've got to swim."
The Nets are in several modes of transition into the future, and none of it is conducive to playing good basketball in the present.
The injuries are the most obvious woe, most notably to All-Star guard Devin Harris, who only recently returned from a 10-game absence with a strained groin. New Jersey played some games this fall without four of its projected starters, and Frank sometimes was forced to suit up the minimum eight.
Alston isn't buying those excuses.
"I'm pretty sure ... if they could fire some players, they would," the veteran point guard said. "When you're 0-16, some players have got to go. A coach can't put on that uniform and go out and chase down loose balls. ... I have a lot of respect for Coach Frank, and I thought he did a great job in the situation he had."
Plagued by poor attendance and financial losses while playing at the Meadowlands, the Nets clearly have been looking ahead to a long-anticipated move to Brooklyn. They're also under the shadow of a possible ownership change, with Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov facing a vote by the NBA's owners by the end of next month on his $200 million bid for the club.
But after stars Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson were shipped out in earlier seasons, Carter's departure made it clear New Jersey was focused on clearing more salary cap space than any other team for next summer, likely to be the most interesting free-agent signing period in recent NBA history. Yet the nearly empty cupboard in New Jersey or Brooklyn might not be appetizing to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or others.
"That's probably as little talent as I've seen anybody put on the floor in the long time with everybody hurt," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Yet they were able to fight and stay competitive. (Frank) has done a great job there."
Frank is the second NBA coach fired this season. Scott lost his job in New Orleans shortly after a loss to the Lakers.
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