Back to Work

Under relentlessly upbeat Frank, no time to wallow in disappointment
For the first time since the Pistons installed him as head coach almost five months ago, the sparkle was missing from Lawrence Frank’s eyes late Monday night. The Pistons had just lost soundly to Indiana in the season opener, falling by 12 after not leading by a single point all night, and the quips were largely missing, the self-deprecating humor that Frank uses to disarm questioners absent.

He tried, once, when an Indianapolis radio guy asked a leading question about how impressive the Pacers, coming off a playoff season and bolstered by the acquisitions of David West and George Hill, looked in the opener before a packed house and a crowd thirsty for meaningful basketball again.

“What’s the big boulevard down there?” Frank asked. “I don’t know if there is going to be a parade this year. They’re a good team – it’s one game.”

Later today, when the Pistons convene for practice in advance of their own anticipated opener – for different reasons, mostly the advent of the Tom Gores era at The Palace and the vows made by ownership and Frank that the Pistons are dedicated to doing whatever it takes to win back their fans – I suspect we will see the other Lawrence Frank.

Here’s what Dave D’Alessandro, the terrific columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger and a longtime Frank observer during his days in New Jersey, told me when Frank was hired: “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 extraordinary positive vibe that he brings to every task, every day. He can lose by 40 and you cannot believe how upbeat the practice would be the next day.”

The only surprise for me today will be if I don’t sense that vibe, not only from Frank but from his players. He’ll have rewatched every play and broken down every nuance of the opener before practice starts, and he’ll offer solutions to every breakdown and shortcoming in a lengthy but tightly run practice, heavy on teaching, on accountability and on positive reinforcement. And when it’s over, the players will know exactly where they stand, precisely where they strayed from the blueprint, and have a firm grasp of how to steer back to the right course.

He’s said all along it was going to be an everyday process. The first day didn’t go the way he’d hoped, but I doubt it left him surprised. I asked him the other day what percentage of his playbook he had managed to install in the two weeks and a few days since camp opened. “Very small,” he said. Twenty percent? Ten? “Very small.”

That’s probably where the Pistons are at on their continuum, too, of absorbing the totality of the Frank makeover – in execution and in mind-set – that’s coming. The roster makeover, as well, is a work in progress, and the bullying the bigger Pacers administered in the opener reinforces the notion the Pistons need another one like Greg Monroe up front. It’s a process, as Frank has maintained, and sometimes the evidence that the process is well under way doesn’t reveal itself in easily quantifiable terms. In basketball, that means wins and losses.

But the feel in the locker room after Monday’s loss was the right one. Disappointment, a little anger, a little embarrassment – but shared emotions, all of them. In word and in body language, the postgame reaction underscored the unity theme Frank has hammered since his pre-camp team meeting. The disappointment, the anger, was equally felt and equally directed. They wanted nothing more than another game, another chance to continue this process their relentlessly positive and positively driven head coach has so clearly laid out before them.