‘Bittersweet’ Return

Frank carries mixed emotions with him as Pistons visit Nets in new home

Lawrence Frank got his first head coaching opportunity with the then-New Jersey Nets.
BROOKLYN – Lawrence Frank has mixed feelings about facing the franchise that gave him his first head coaching opportunity. He’s happy for the people who brought to life what often seemed a pipedream, but wistful that the rebirth of the Nets in Brooklyn came at the expense of fans in his native New Jersey.

“It’s a little bit bittersweet,” he said. “You hate to see your state lose a team, yet I do know all the equity they put into it. So I’m happy for them.”

Frank attended the Barclays Center opening event, a Jay-Z concert, at the invitation of the Nets. The construction of the arena took years of negotiations for property in Brooklyn that came amid controversy and over the complains of citizens groups protesting the dislocation of Brooklyn residents to make way for a project that included residential and commercial development, as well.

The driving force behind the project was Bruce Ratner, Nets owner while Frank coached the team, subsequently selling them to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.

“Having been there from the beginning, when it was just an idea, and to see the unbelievable persistence of Bruce Ratner and (CEO) Brett Yormark, and to see it come to fruition, it’s a great story,” Frank said. “So many times, it was shot down, then you had the economic crisis and the funding (uncertainty) and Bruce was so persistent with it. There aren’t many people who could have seen it through. I’m real happy for them.”

The Nets played in New Jersey from 1977-2012, but they have a vagabond past. They won their ABA titles while playing on New York’s Long Island, but they’ve also called the campus of Rutgers University home and began their existence as the New Jersey Americans in 1967 at the armory in Frank’s hometown of Teaneck, N.J.

But there’s no denying the fact that the move to Brooklyn has energized the franchise in a way it never was able to do during its stay at the Meadowlands, playing in a dank arena by modern standards with a fan base that never mushroomed.

“The Jersey fans were great,” Frank said. “You had a following, and when we became really good, the following got a little bigger, but we always had a core base. (Now) you just look for an (licensed) apparel standpoint – one, two, three (in NBA rankings), whatever they are – it’s exploded for them. They’ve invested a lot of money in the team, they have one of the highest payrolls in the league, and they have a good team.”

The Nets take a 12-9 record into the game. They failed to swing a deal to bring Dwight Howard from Orlando to Brooklyn despite repeated close calls, but went on a summer spending spree to retain their own free agents – Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace – and traded for Joe Johnson and his $20 million 2012-13 contract. At $85 million, the Nets have one of the league’s top-five payrolls.