Perfect for Pistons

New Jersey columnist sees Frank as a great fit for young Pistons

Joe Dumars and Lawrence Frank
Joe Dumars and Lawrence Frank have their work cut out for them for the start of the 2011-12 season.
Allen Einstein/Getty Images
Joe Dumars heard glowing endorsements from the man who gave Lawrence Frank his first NBA head coaching job, Rod Thorn, and the guy on whose bench he served last year, Doc Rivers. The people who knew Frank back in his days as a student manager at Indiana, such as former IU assistant Dan Dakich, quickly came to believe he had a bright future as a head coach, as well, and is the right man to lead the Pistons as they transition to a new era.

That’s encouraging, of course. But when high praise comes from a perfectly neutral observer with no vested interest in Frank’s success or failure, that should cause further optimism.

Dave D’Alessandro, a first-rate columnist for the Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., was there when Thorn made what at the time seemed a stunning move in firing Byron Scott midway through the 2003-04 season and the even more stunning decision to replace him with Frank, then 33 and largely unknown.

D’Alessandro admits he didn’t think Frank was up to the task of taking over a team of headstrong veterans that had been to two straight NBA Finals.

“That was a case of Rod Thorn knowing a lot more about his team than I ever could, or anybody else ever could,” D’Alessandro said this week as news broke of Frank succeeding John Kuester as Pistons head coach. “He was one of those precocious young assistants. He was really a savant when it came to the fine details. It was no accident they won 13 in a row.”

D’Alessandro said those Nets veterans had lost faith in Scott, but it was up to Frank to prove himself to the veterans, particularly to their leader, who “was gratified he was playing for a guy who cared as much about winning as he did. From there, he proved how good he was year in and year out, just by getting the most out of what he had.”

The Nets, D’Alessandro said, were losing great amounts of money and ownership’s mandate was to slash payroll in the hope of attracting an investor who could help realize the long-range goal of moving the team to Brooklyn and a new arena that needed an injection of cash to get the ball rolling.

“Winning was not the agenda,” D’Alessandro said. “Along the way, he never flinched, never wavered, always did his job the same way. He did an absurd amount of preparation. This guy would watch tape until his eyeballs bled. He did his job without any complaints, even when the mandate became develop the young guys.”

When the Nets bottomed out in talent and began the 2009-10 season 0-16, Frank was fired.

“You have to let a guy go when it starts 0 and 16,” D’Alessandro said, “but it was a team no one expected to win more than 18 games that year. He never complained, never blamed anybody else and left with every single friend he ever had in the organization, which is very rare. He is about as good as it gets when it comes to professionalism and preparation and seeing the big picture and long-term planning.”

That should dovetail nicely with the transition to a younger team.

“He’s great at emphasizing work ethic and doing it right every day and making sure guys come in and do the extra work,” D’Alessandro said. “That’s the way he works himself, from dawn to dusk, and expects everybody else to do it, too. If anybody was going to impress on kids what it takes to be a true professional, it’s him. He’s perfect for that.

“He’s as good a candidate for a young team – any kind of team, really – as there has been for any vacancy that has popped open since he left the Nets. That’s a hell of a move by Joe to get the deal done. I’m sure he heard nothing but positive testimony from Rod and Doc Rivers. Lawrence doesn’t have any shortage of friends in the business. He networks as well as anybody. When he was out for about eight months before being hired by Boston, he literally would go from camp to camp – college or pro – just to sit in on practices and renew old acquaintances and see if there were other ways of doing things he might have missed. He even goes to high school practices.”

D’Alessandro said one of the rare criticisms of Frank from his first go-around as an NBA head coach was that he didn’t delegate much responsibility to assistant coaches. He’s heard that Frank thinks his stint as Rivers’ assistant in charge of Boston’s defense opened his eyes and believes he’ll adapt in his second chance.

“To say he learned from Doc, it doesn’t surprise me a bit because Doc gave him a lot to do,” he said. “Taking over for (current Bulls coach Tom) Thibodeau was not only right for him, there were very few people who could do that job so well. But it also gave him pause to say, ‘I can see how Doc can trust me with something so important as giving me responsibility to run the mechanisms that get Boston in title contention, maybe I can do the same thing with some other guys.’ ”

One other quality Frank will bring to the Pistons, D’Alessandro believes, is an aura of positivity that should serve well a young team that needs its confidence propped up.

“You can see him raising the spirits of everybody on the staff and in the locker room. He’s never had an enemy. He just wins you over with his really extraordinarily positive vibe that he brings to every task, every day. You can lose by 40 and you cannot believe how upbeat the practice would be the next day.”

Dumars has doubled down on adding high-character young players in the last three drafts, especially, and now the development of those players will be in the hands of a coach who comes with a reputation for teaching, preparing and encouraging. D’Alessandro’s assessment sounds right: Lawrence Frank should be perfect for that.