Pistons Starting Over With Frank
By Steve St-Pierre
Nobody knows when Lawrence Frank will actually get to begin coaching his new team, but when he does, he intends to start from scratch.
Frank has been introduced as the new head coach of the Pistons, who want to get back to being a blue-collar organization that can ultimately compete for a fourth NBA Championship.
“We need to reclaim the Pistons culture, and that’s about hard work,” Frank says. “The slates are clean. They have to be, because your scrapbooks don’t matter in this game.”
With the current NBA lockout, teams are not allowed to have any contact with players or player representatives. Coaches and other team personnel are not even able to mention players in public conversations.
“This is going to be a little difficult because of the situation we are in,” Frank says about the lockout. “I can’t talk in specifics or about the players.”
“Right now, our first job is to get this franchise back on track,” adds Joe Dumars, Pistons President. “We went through a very lengthy process with this hire – we started talking to Lawrence in June, and it is now August – and I’m very confident that he’s the right person to get us going in the right direction.”
Assisting Dumars with the hire were Tom Gores, Pistons Owner, and his business partners Bob Wentworth and Phil Norment.
“Working with Tom and his people was different because they have a system in place that they use for a big hire, and this was definitely a big hire,” Dumars says. “It was a very thorough search process, and that’s what we needed because we are desperate to find a long-term coach.”
Reports surfaced that Dumars actually preferred Mike Woodson, former head coach of the Atlanta Hawks and an assistant coach on the Pistons’ 2004 Championship team. Though such rumors have yet to be addressed, Frank acknowledges his flaws while maintaining confidence in working around those imperfections.
“I was like a bad Hollywood actor,” Frank says about his days in high school as a wanna-be basketball player. “All I ever heard was ‘cut, cut, cut, cut.’ My senior season, the coach put his arm around me and told me I had a ton of courage, but I was still cut.”
Despite never playing basketball, Frank has managed to be successful in the sport enough to warrant his second job as an NBA head coach. He previously spent seven seasons coaching the New Jersey Nets before joining the Boston Celtics as an assistant coach last season.
“It comes down to your actions as a coach and whether or not you back up what you say,” Frank says. “If you don’t back up what you say, no one trusts what you say.”
It also helps that Frank is known around the league for his hard work and dedication to his profession and the game of basketball.
“Lawrence won’t want me to say this, but he started on Monday, and he was here at 5:30 in the morning,” Dumars says. “We might be in an odd situation with the lockout, but he’s still here working.”
The next step for Frank will be hiring assistant coaches. He says he is already considering both Brian Hill and Pat Sullivan. Both previously coached under former Pistons head coach John Kuester.
“The qualities we’re looking for, one is high character; two is great work ethic; three is a passion and energy you can bring every day; four is an excellent teacher; and five is a lifelong learner,” Frank says. “Everyone we hire, regardless of names, they’re going to buy that because we have to be about what we talk about.”
Whenever the lockout ends, Frank will be expected to begin rebuilding the Pistons around a new core of younger players including center Greg Monroe and rookie point guard Brandon Knight. Dumars anticipates re-signing restricted free agent forward Jonas Jerebko, who would also be considered a centerpiece to the team’s future.
Meanwhile, the organization will have to address several other questions involving its current roster. It’s been well-documented that the team has been trying to trade disgruntled veteran Rip Hamilton, who along with Ben Wallace are the only holdovers from the ’04 title team. If Hamilton cannot be moved before the season begins, Frank will be stuck in the same position as Detroit’s two previous coaches, having to balance playing time between Hamilton and the rest of the Pistons’ crowded backcourt.
Guard Ben Gordon and forward Charlie Villanueva, Dumars’ prized free-agent additions in 2009, struggled immensely under Kuester. Frank must find a way to get both players consistent minutes on the court. Because both players signed for a combined $90 million, the team has limited ability to sign additional free agents. For Gordon, the opportunity for set playing time might only come if Hamilton is moved.
If Jerebko is re-signed, he could start at either forward spot alongside either Villanueva or Austin Daye. Tayshaun Prince, the Pistons’ starting small forward for nearly the last decade, is a free agent and isn’t expected back. Likewise, restricted free agent guard Rodney Stuckey could also be done in Detroit considering the team has Knight and veteran Will Bynum already set at point guard, with Gordon and Hamilton manning the shooting guard position.
Though Frank is currently unable to publicly address any of these decisions, he does accept the expectations being placed on him as coach of the Pistons.
“You look at the numbers – six straight years in the conference finals, playoffs in eight of the last 10 seasons and those three titles (in 1989, 1990 and 2004, respectively),” Frank says. “There are only five teams in the NBA with three of those, and this is one of them. That’s an honor.”