Adapt and Advance
“Whatever you talk to him about, he’s already thought about it,” Dumars said. “He’s already probably broken it down, written it out, thought it out. You’re not going to walk into Lawrence’s office and discuss something with him that he hasn’t thought about and put some time into it.”
That level of preparedness should serve the Pistons well in this most unusual of NBA seasons, where the lag time from training camp’s onset to regular-season opener is 17 days and games will be squeezed into a tighter window than usual, curtailing practice time and forcing coaches to be ever more creative with their use of players – and of players’ time.
“It’s a little bit of a Catch-22,” Frank said. “You can’t get rushed by the schedule. It’s a serious foundation that has to be laid down. This is going to be an ongoing process of daily improvement. It’s a constant checking of what you’re doing well and not doing well, not saying we have to go on to the next thing because that’s the schedule. I’m a big believer in doing things right and well than in doing more things.”
Those privy to Pistons practices say Frank is resolute in correcting every minor error as it happens, but doing it in a way that doesn’t grate on the players. His corrections are on point without being heavy-handed, they say, and players, for their part, are responding positively to his teaching. Frank’s self-deprecating sense of humor goes a long way toward making players more open to receiving instruction from him.
Frank and his staff videotape every practice. They are all then assigned certain players to evaluate from the tape. And that feedback informs Frank as to how the next practice should be conducted. He constantly evaluates the progress of his team and adjusts his practice emphasis accordingly. During two-a-days, which the Pistons conducted Sunday and Monday, the second practice is based on what was achieved during the first. And the next day’s schedule isn’t set until the work of that day is evaluated.
Frank has begun to install offensive sets, but says there is no way they’ll even be close to having the full playbook at their disposal for the Dec. 26 season opener at Indiana.
“We’ll be ready to play,” he said, “but we won’t be a finished product.”
Frank is mindful of the wear and tear that training camp puts on his players, especially the older veterans. So Ben Wallace, 37, won’t participate in as many repetitions as younger players, for instance.
“Ben is being a great teammate,” he said. “Tayshaun (Prince) is working his way back in with a little bit of a knee injury. Those things take care of themselves. (But) everyone has got to practice, because the opponent wants to beat you and you want to beat them.”
Frank concedes that the compressed schedule might affect his rotation or the way minutes are distributed some nights more than others. In general, he said he doesn’t have a magic number with which he’s comfortable dipping into his bench.
“My general philosophy has always been dictated on the teams,” he said. “I’ve had teams when we play 10, seven, eight, nine – four one game, against the Hoosiers,” he joked. “It’s always the team and the parts that have dictated it.”
As for the schedule’s role, “You have to weigh some of that in there, but at the same time you have to give yourself a chance to win. I think the more guys you can get in the game, and even if it’s a little bit earlier in the game – in back-to-back situations, you may like to sub your guys a little earlier in that first game. Then you want to develop a bench. That’s all part of the process. Once we figure it out, developing a bench and being consistent with them. Sometimes the knee-jerk reaction – and I’ve been guilty of it – is the bench struggles the first couple of games, you pull them. Sometimes you may lose a battle in order to win the general outcome and you just have to be patient.”
In a season that will demand flexibility, the Pistons have a coach who gives Joe Dumars full confidence he’ll have considered every possibility before it arises.