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Lawrence Frank, Casualty Of A Broader Plan In Jersey

Over at SB Nation’s Nuggets blog, Denver Stiffs, Andrew Feinstein offers a look at Nets GM Kiki Vandeweghe, who spent a number of years in Denver, as well. A closer look at the Nets show Vandeweghe pulling the strings the same way he did in Denver—content to lose, cut salary, and build through the draft. But in both cases, a talented young coach was a casualty of that strategy.

First it was Denver’s Jeff Bzdelik, and now, New Jersey’s Lawrence Frank:

During Vandeweghe’s tenure with the Nets, the franchise has dealt the aging, overpaid Jason Kidd to Dallas for Devin Harris and several soon-to-be-expiring contracts including Trenton Hassell’s, sent the overpaid Richard Jefferson to Milwaukee for Yi Jianlin and Bobby Simmons’ soon-to-be-expiring contract and recently traded another max player, Vince Carter, to Orlando for the expiring contracts of Rafer Alston and Tony Battie.

Left in the wake of all these deals is the 26th lowest payroll in the NBA with the salaries of Simmons, Alston, Battie, Hassell, Keyon Dooling and Jarvis Hayes coming off the books in 2010. Plus, the Nets have one of the better young point guards in the NBA in Devin Harris, a solid center in Brook Lopez (even though my Uncle Marty claims he’s a Stiff after watching him up close against the Nuggets last week), a good swingman in Chris Douglas-Roberts and even Yi was playing well before going down with another injury. Oh, and the Nets have their own lottery pick plus the Mavericks’ first round pick in 2010.

But also left in the wake is a lost season that head coach Lawrence Frank – whom Vandeweghe inherited – is about to take the fall for. Saddled with a gutted-out, injury-riddled roster Frank is being Bzdelik’d. And it’s not fair. Lest we forget that Frank won his first 13 games in a row when he took over the Nets for Byron Scott several seasons ago. But life’s not fair (Frank does make – gasp – $4 million a year, so I don’t feel that bad for him) and unlike Bzdelik’s amazing performance in 2002-03, Frank’s team is losing all the games they’re supposed to lose.

Similar to the situation for Bzdelik in Denver, Vandeweghe won’t stand up for Frank (even though this is clearly Vandeweghe’s plan) and is just buying time before he can hire a big name coach to right the ship when LeBron James and/or other free agents and a top draft pick join the franchise next summer. Different from what happened in Denver, though, is that Vandeweghe is rumored to take over as head coach. I guess the bottom line is that when you lose your first 16 games (about to be 18), no matter how bad your roster/injury situation is your job isn’t salvageable. Good bye, Lawrence Frank.

Indeed, it’s clear that this season is part of a much broader vision for New Jersey. On Friday, I mentioned that the Nets are historically awful, and in a phenomenal situation. In fact, every game they lose this season actually helps them, provided it doesn’t affect the young players they have. As the losses mount, that just enhances New Jersey’s chances in the NBA lottery, where they’ll have the chance to add a budding superstar to go along with whatever free agents they can add this offseason.

But as Feinstein highlights, these gains don’t come without a cost. In Denver, it was then-Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik that was forced to fall on the sword and take responsibility for the failures of a roster that was, by and large, constructed to lose. Now, it’s happening in New Jersey and Lawrence Frank is the one taking the hit. Is it fair? Maybe not, but as mentioned in the first story Sunday morning, this is the nature of the business, and nobody understands that better than Frank, who’s making $4 million this season and will almost certainly work as a head coach again.

And for the Nets, getting rid of Frank will buy them some credibility with their fans, and take the heat off of management during a season that’s been underwhelming by design. It’s going to change soon, and when it does, KikI Vandeweghe and the Nets’ management are betting that the cost of essentially forfeiting a season will be worth it. Dispatching players like Brook Lopez and Courtney Lee to lead a team, hoping for lottery luck and lucrative returns in the offseason—it’s kind of like making a deal with the devil.

If Frank’s a casualty of that bargain, then so be it, in Vandeweghe's eyes. Frank was always looked upon as disposable, and as a veteran NBA coach, he surely knew as much. His dismissal isn’t an indication of his abilities or success as a coach, but of a broader strategy for the current Nets regime. The real success or failure of this strategy will come down the line.

Is it fair? Probably not. Is it smart? Time will tell…