Pistons Fire Frank

Vow to act quickly should serve Pistons well in search for new coach

Lawrence Frank coached the Pistons for two seasons, including the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign.
NBAE/Getty Images
Tom Gores made good on his word to thoroughly but “very, very quickly” make the tough decisions necessary for the future of the Detroit Pistons.

The Pistons on Thursday fired coach Lawrence Frank, less than 24 hours after what Frank described as a “very tough, very turbulent” season came to an end with a loss at Brooklyn.

“We thank Lawrence for his hard work and dedication, but we feel it is in the best interest of the franchise to make a change at this time,” Joe Dumars, president of basketball operations, said in a prepared statement released by the team. “Decisions like this are never easy and we wish Lawrence well in the future.”

Gores’ decisiveness could serve the Pistons well as they enter what might quickly become a crowded market looking at a coaching field not brimming with obvious fix-it candidates. Even some of the 16 NBA teams heading for the playoffs could be looking for a coach when their seasons end, giving the Pistons a head start.

Among coaches with a history of success currently not sitting on an NBA bench, it’s uncertain any of Phil Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy or Jerry Sloan are interested in jumping back into the fray. Nate McMillan, Stan Van Gundy and Scott Skiles are others with lengthy resumes who could be interested in some of the many openings expected – perhaps reaching double digits, by some estimations.

Cleveland and Philadelphia also have openings, with speculation about several other coaches swirling.

When the Pistons hired Frank in 2011 as the first major decision after Gores assumed ownership of the franchise in June, he was one of five candidates known to have interviewed for the position.

The others were Mike Woodson, who became Knicks head coach months later when they fired Mike D’Antoni in mid-season; ex-Pistons great and one-time Detroit Shock coach Bill Laimbeer, now coach of the WNBA’s New York Liberty; former NBA great and longtime assistant coach Pat Ewing; and Kelvin Sampson, a successful college head coach who now is Kevin McHale’s lead assistant in Houston.

NBA assistant coaches whose names frequently surface as head coaching candidates include Golden State’s Mike Malone, Indiana’s Brian Shaw, San Antonio’s Mike Budenholzer, Houston’s Sampson and ex-Phoenix assistant Elston Turner, who left the staff at mid-season when he was bypassed in favor of Lindsey Hunter after the Suns fired Alvin Gentry.

Frank’s tenure ended after two trying seasons in which the Pistons went 54-94. He was hired during the 2011 lockout, which put all new coaches in a difficult position due to the condensed training camp and preseason schedule it necessitated. After a 4-20 start, the Pistons made marked strides to finish 21-21 and became a more cohesive defensive team.

His second season started poorly, as well, as the Pistons lost their first eight games due in part to a six-game Western Conference road trip that set the stage for a season in which the Pistons won just four of 30 games against teams in the opposite conference. The Pistons played much more competitively, though, despite the losses – until a March stretch in which they went 1-13 and suffered three losses of 30-plus points.

While there isn’t extreme urgency to fill the position, the Pistons no doubt would like to have a coach on board in advance of July 1 when free agency opens. The Pistons figure to have $25 million or more to spend, more than all but two other NBA teams. It would be a tough sell to attract a coveted player without a coach in charge while having a coach in place who is well regarded by players around the league could prove a tipping point for some.