Pistons Preparation

Frank and his new team of assistants are 'all about the work'

When I talked to Joe Dumars three weeks ago about the new assistant coaches Lawrence Frank had lined up, he smiled as he talked about how they were all throwing themselves into the job.

“These guys work,” he said. “They put their heads down. They’re not coming in with a lot of fluff. If you’re in the office with these guys, you get a sense real quickly – these cats are all about the work. They’re not about anything else.”

Their signings have not yet been officially announced by the Pistons, but they’ve been putting in long days for several weeks now. Their typical days are 5:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. – when the staff calls it a day by going out to dinner together most nights.

Two weeks ago, they backed off a little bit. Frank took the entire staff on a four-day coaches retreat. They stayed at the MGM Grand in Detroit – Frank wanted to make sure the team spent its money in the city – and the staff got to sleep in. Instead of starting at 5:30, they convened for breakfast at 8 in Frank’s suite. Lunch was delivered around noon. At 7 p.m., they’d break for dinner.

“It was great,” said Steve Hetzel, a holdover from John Kuester’s staff who earned his spot back as player development coach under Frank by impressing him during a working interview. “They were long days, but they were productive. We’ve got a lot to go over.”

The enthusiasm with which the coaches have tackled the endless list of projects Frank takes to them is rooted in their belief that their head coach – who they all say sets the tone for work ethic – will make the best use of their information. It won’t be stacked in the in-box to collect dust.

“His curiosity for learning is through the roof,” one of the new assistants told me. “Everything is like a working file with him. If he wants to tweak something, he’ll tweak it right when he thinks of it. There’s no pile, like ‘I’ll get to this over the summer.’ He wants to get to it while it’s in his head. He has multiple projects that are always open.”

It hasn’t been business as usual in the NBA this off-season, of course, which drove both Joe D to take his time in choosing Frank as his head coach and Frank’s deliberate process in choosing his staff. But Frank has been grinding hard in preparation for a Nov. 2 start to the regular season.

Whenever Frank has a team to coach, he and his staff are going to be ready to hit the ground running. Everyone has a clearly defined role. Frank believes it will be important as a first-year coach with the Pistons for his voice to be heard above all others so the message is consistently delivered, but he will have one assistant who will be in his ear on offense and another who will be charged with helping him call the defense – a role that Frank served last year for Doc Rivers in Boston.

Another will be in charge of charting what Frank calls “special teams.” Here’s how Frank defines special teams: “All the special situations. There are 16 after-timeout opportunities. There are four first play of quarters. There are another four end-of-quarter plays. I wasn’t good at math, but that’s 24 right there. Then there are four opportunities for two-for-ones at the end of quarters. Off of free throws, both offensive and defensive, there are special things we do on both ends.”

One assistant will be in charge of tracking and organizing a defensive chart that Frank says is probably the most important chart of the many he keeps. It tracks accountability for each player on each possession and is amazingly detailed. In just one category – side pick and rolls – there are 21 areas to evaluate.

When I asked one of Frank’s assistants who has worked with him before to describe what the Pistons have in their new head coach, he said, “He’s outstanding in situations – late-game situations, situations that come up during the game that the average fan doesn’t even think about that happen in the first, second or third quarter that are ultimately responsible for the outcome of the game. He’s a great situation coach and it’s because of his preparation. He basically leaves no stone unturned and tries to think about every situation that could possibly happen during the course of a game and have a reaction to it. Preparation is not going to be a problem for us. We’ll be prepared for every team we play. I know he’s ready for the challenge.”