Posted on: June 25, 2010 11:06 pm
Edited on: June 26, 2010 1:17 am
Following a bizarre trend that apparently dictates that it's better to be devoid of leadership at the most critical time in franchise history, the Nets will be without the executive who led them to two Finals appearances and gave them the best chance of succeeding in free agency. Rod Thorn is stepping down as team president effective July 15, a person familiar with the situation confirmed to CBSSports.com Friday night.
You read that right: Thorn will be pulling the Summer of LeBron version of Kevin Pritchard's draft night, conducting the chase for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson -- a chase the franchise endured a payroll-gutting, 12-win season to engage in. When it's over, he's gone, according to the person with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to announce the move.
While it was known that Thorn's contract was set to expire June 30, his departure is stunning considering his accomplishments and the importance of the free-agent negotiating period that begins July 1. Thorn has agreed to stay on until July 15 to help navigate free agency, but it's not clear what marquee player would choose to join the Nets in Newark, N.J., without knowing who's making the basketball decisions. The team won't move to its new digs in Brooklyn for two more years.
According to an executive with another team who is familiar with the situation, Thorn was asked to take a massive pay cut and balked. Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov may be a billionaire, but not when it comes to paying the person running his basketball team. "He wants a younger voice," the person said.
But that description contradicted a Bergen (N.J.) Record report early Saturday in which Jerry Colangelo was touted as the leading candidate to replace Thorn. The report, which hinted that Colangelo could have some role in the Nets' free-agent visit with James next week in Ohio, rekindled speculation that arose during All-Star weekend in Dallas. At that time, when Prokhorov's bid for the Nets was still being considered by the NBA's Board of Governors, Colangelo said he wasn't pursuing any jobs but would listen if the Nets called. The managing director of USA Basketball, Colangelo would be a key asset in the Nets' pursuit of James or other free agents from the 2008 Olympic team that won gold in Beijing.
Unlike the Cavaliers and Clippers, the Nets at least do have a coach in place -- and perhaps Avery Johnson is angling for personnel authority, given that he stressed his desire for such control in other job interviews this summer. But without Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe, whom Prokhorov fired through the news media several weeks ago, the Nets will be without a credible basketball management figure at by far the most crucial point in the history of this meandering, mostly second-rate franchise.
Reached via text message Friday night, Thorn replied, "Right now, I have no comment."
The Nets are by no means the only team to gut itself of basketball intellect on the cusp of irreversibly important decisions. Suns owner Robert Sarver decided to cut ties with GM Steve Kerr at a time when Kerr and his assistant, David Griffin -- who also is departing -- were trying to negotiate an extension with star forward Amar'e Stoudemire. The Cavs decided to stumble into the most important month in Cleveland sports history -- and one that could change the NBA landscape forever -- without a coach or GM. Chris Grant, the replacement for former GM Danny Ferry, is indisputably talented but also has never been faced with circumstances as pressurized as possibly losing his city's biggest sports star since Jim Brown.
The Clippers, also entertaining false hope of luring major free agents, have yet to hire a coach. And the Trail Blazers -- though not free-agent players -- made a mockery of the GM profession Thursday when owner Paul Allen fired Pritchard an hour before the draft while instructing him to make his picks and trades before going home for good.
The only thing any of this proves, besides incompetence, is that there's no better job than being an unemployed or soon-to-be unemployed GM in the NBA. Either you're still getting paid by the team that fired you, which is good, or you're salivating over numerous job openings. Or both. But something you're not doing if you're a team without leadership is signing James or Wade as a free agent.
Posted on: December 4, 2009 11:03 pm
To me, once the Nets had the record for worst start in NBA history at 0-18, it was time to give the national media obsession a rest. I'd be back on the Nets' bandwagon if and when they were going for the record for the longest losing streak in a single season, 23 games.
Won't be necessary.
The Nets won -- I repeat, the Nets won -- Friday night, 97-91 over the Charlotte Bobcats. And it's the Bobcats who are the story as much as the Nets are.
Losing to an 0-18 team is the latest embarrassment added to Michael Jordan's resume as a basketball executive. Bobcats coach Larry Brown, who almost three decades ago left the Nets with two weeks left in the season to take the University of Kansas job, tried to complete 11 trades during the game but was rebuffed by the league office. Then he quit to take the Fordham job, but got cold feet when he heard Rollie Massimino wanted the job.
Kiki Harris is a great coach. So is Del Vandeweghe. Or something like that. Anyway, it doesn't matter. The Nets won. The parade will be at noon Saturday along Paterson Plank Road.
Posted on: November 30, 2009 7:13 pm
Edited on: December 1, 2009 9:44 am
Kiki Vandeweghe has accepted the Nets' interim coaching job, with veteran Del Harris likely joining him on the bench as his lead assistant, CBSSports.com has confirmed.
Vandeweghe, the Nets' assistant GM, will take over after Wednesday night's home game against Dallas, in which the Nets could break the NBA record with an 0-18 start, the worst in league history. Tom Barrise will serve as the sacrificial coach against the Mavs, a person familiar with the decision said.
UPDATE: A second person directly involved in the discussions said Harris' participation isn't yet finalized, but that Harris is expected to arrive in New Jersey Wednesday and sign a contract for the rest of the season. The notion that Harris will serve as co-coach is inaccurate; Vandeweghe has assistant coach experience and will focus on player development, as he did with the Mavericks early in the decade. Harris, a longtime sideline tactician, will help with in-game strategy much the way he and Bernie Bickerstaff did with Vinny Del Negro last season. But, as one source put it, "The buck stops with the head coach."
Vandeweghe, who will be introduced in his new role during a Tuesday morning news conference at the Nets' practice facility, also is one of the key figures who've helped run Pete Newell's prestigious big-man camp for years.
"This is not something he's being forced to do," a person close to Vandeweghe said Tuesday. "This is something he wants."
Like team president Rod Thorn and deposed coach Lawrence Frank, Vandeweghe is in the last year of his contract. So in addition to an experienced lead assistant, he would like assurances that he could return to his front office position after the season. The situation would be similar to Portland GM Kevin Pritchard finishing the 2004-05 season on the bench and returning upstairs after Nate McMillan was hired.
Thorn and Vandeweghe discussed this and agreed that if Thorn is making the decision, Vandeweghe will be back in the front office next season. But with the ownership situation up in the air, nothing can be decided on that front because neither Vandeweghe nor Thorn knows who will be making such decisions once the team is sold to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov. The sale of the team is expected to be finalized by the end of the calendar year.
Vandeweghe's first game would be Friday night at home against the Bobcats. He takes over a team still recovering from the shock of Frank's firing, demoralized and embarrassed by an 0-17-and-counting start, and still decimated by injuries. The starting backcourt of Devin Harris and Courtney Lee only recently returned from injury, and projected starters Yi Jianlian and Jarvis Hayes remain out, along with key reserves Eduardo Najera, Keyon Dooling, and Tony Battie. The Nets have among the most available cap space in the league as they pursue a strategy of luring two top-shelf free agents next summer. But despite a string of legal victories in their pursuit of a move to a new arena in Brooklyn, repeated delays have pushed that possibility into the 2011-12 season.
A key question is who will be making the decisions with all that cap space, as Thorn and Vandeweghe don't know if the new ownership group will retain them beyond this season.
Making matters worse, the Nets are having trouble drawing fans even with the prospect of witnessing the NBA record for season-opening futility Wednesday night. In its Off the Dribble blog, the New York Times reported Monday that seats for the Dallas game were being unloaded for as little as $2 in the upper bowl and $8 in the lower level. Talk about futility.
Posted on: November 29, 2009 10:04 am
Edited on: November 30, 2009 12:01 am
The Nets spared Lawrence Frank the embarrassment of tying the NBA record for the longest losing streak to start a season, but that didn't change anything for the players he used to coach. The Nets fell to 0-17 Sunday night under interim coach Tom Barrise, losing to the defending champion Lakers 106-87.
Barrise, a 13-year veteran of the staff, coached what could be his only game pending team president Rod Thorn's decision on who will be handed the reins for the rest of the season. Within the organization, Thorn is considering Barrise, assistant coach John Loyer, added to the staff in September after Brian Hill left for the Pistons, and assistant GM Kiki Vandeweghe. According to a source, Thorn also has interviewed at least one person outside the organization. But with the team mired in an epic crisis, and with the proposed sale of the team to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov to be decided by the end of the calendar year, it is clear to all candidates that this is an interim situation only. The Nets' brass will hunker down in day-long organizational meetings Monday, and a source said Frank's replacement will be installed in time for the team's next practice on Tuesday.
With their 0-17 start, the Nets tied the record for the worst start in NBA history, also achieved by the 1988 expansion Heat and 1999 Clippers. According to Yahoo! Sports, the team had been planning to let Frank go after the West Coast trip ended -- using the two practice days prior to Wednesday night's home game against Dallas to install the new coach. But Thorn, who has supported Frank through tough times before and respects him, decided Sunday to spare his coach the indignity of walking straight from the sidelines to the plank. Frank, who started his head coaching career in New Jersey with an NBA record 13 straight victories in 2004, ended it with 16 straight losses.
It became clear on a recent stretch culminating in a 99-85 loss at Milwaukee that Frank had lost his command of the locker room. Still, Thorn had wanted to give Frank a chance to save his job once several key injured players returned. Although New Jersey's bench remains decimated by injuries, the recent return of Devin Harris and Courtney Lee has not improved the team's performance.
Appointing Vandeweghe, who has no head coaching experience, to replace Frank would mimic the recent bumbling of another frugal organization, the New Orleans Hornets, who fired former Nets coach Byron Scott and replaced him with GM Jeff Bower. Due to cost-cutting moves, neither team had an obvious interim candidate on the bench, and the idea of getting two jobs for the price of one appeals to the bean-counters in a way that has rattled front-office assistants on financially strapped teams league-wide. Vandeweghe makes at least $1 million as Thorn's right-hand man and has little leverage to object to such a move.
Vandeweghe, who has reportedly been less supportive of Frank than the ultra-loyal Thorn, was analyzing the team's personnel and formulating his potential coaching strategy during the Nets' West Coast trip. Before the team left on the trip, Vandeweghe lingered in the locker room long after a 98-91 loss to the Knicks on Nov. 21, speaking privately with Harris and other key players. He is said to be prepared to accept the interim post if asked.
Loyer is a new wrinkle in the Nets' coaching picture. He spent the past four seasons as an assistant with the 76ers, and prior to that worked his way up the ranks with the Trail Blazers for five seasons as a video coordinator, advance scout, and assistant coach. Conspiracy theorists will be pleased to point out a vague connection Loyer has to potential 2010 free agent LeBron James; Loyer attended the University of Akron in James' hometown.
Posted on: November 28, 2009 12:40 pm
There has been "no change" in Lawrence Frank's status as coach of the 0-16 Nets as the franchise continues its inexorable march toward the record for NBA futility, two people familiar with the team's situation told CBSSports.com on Saturday.
After losing to the Kings 109-96 Friday night, the Nets enter Sunday's game against the defending NBA champion Lakers with a chance to equal the worst start in league history, achieved by the 1988 expansion Heat and 1999 Clippers. After Sunday's presumed defeat is in the record books, Nets president Rod Thorn faces a decision on Frank with two off days prior to the potential record-breaker at home Wednesday against Dallas -- and Frank's former point guard, Jason Kidd. Does he allow Frank, whom he has respected and supported, to achieve the futility mark at the hands of Kidd? Or does he deviate from his plan to evaluate Frank's job performance only when the team returns to full health?
A mercy firing might spare Frank the embarrassment of having his name forever associated with a winless start that has more to do with ownership's cost-cutting than Frank's coaching ability. But there's little hope it would change the Nets' fortunes. Shooting guard Courtney Lee played only three minutes off the bench Friday night after returning from a groin injury two games earlier. Although Devin Harris returned to the starting lineup against the Kings, the Nets are still without reserves Yi Jianlian, Jarvis Hayes, Keyon Dooling, Eduardo Najera, and Tony Battie. Thorn has been thus far steadfast in his plan to hold off on deciding Frank's future until the team has a reasonable complement of players available. One of the sources stipulated that there is no change in Frank's status "right now" -- further evidence of how fluid the situation is.
Frank is a lame duck in the final year of his contract, but with lead assistant Brian Hill having left to join the Pistons' bench, Thorn's options are limited to assistant coach Tom Barrise and assistant GM Kiki Vandeweghe. Complicating matters is the pending sale of the team to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and the fact that Thorn and Vandeweghe also are in the final year of their contracts. Given the Nets' lame-duck status in New Jersey and the scant hopes for a meaningful turnaround, league sources believe it's not out of the question for lame-duck owner Bruce Ratner to mimic the Hornets' decision to install GM Jeff Bower as Byron Scott's replacement on the bench. It is believed that Vandeweghe, who traveled with the team on the current West Coast trip, would accept such a reassignment on an interim basis.
Barring something even more unforeseen than an arena materializing in Brooklyn by the All-Star break, none of the above has more than a puncher's chance to knock the Nets off their collision course with history.
Posted on: April 16, 2009 12:31 am
Aside from the obvious, such as Kenny Natt in Sacramento, the coach who should be looking over his shoulder the most as the regular season comes to a close is the Nets' Lawrence Frank.
The Nets' front office tandem of Rod Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe don't like Frank any less after a 34-48 season that ended Wednesday night with a nondescript 102-73 loss to the Knicks without Devin Harris and Vince Carter. Neither Thorn nor Vandeweghe expected much more out of this roster; dare I say, the Nets achieved almost precisely what should've been expected. But the Nets are one of many teams planning a dramatic change of direction in the next two summers. Is Frank the guy they want on the sideline when a big free agent comes to town in '10? (Whether that town is East Rutherford, N.J. or Brooklyn, N.Y. remains to be seen.)
It doesn't make any financial sense for the Nets to hire a new coach now. Frank has one more year on his contract, and New Jersey isn't going anywhere significant next season, either. (This is a long-term plan, the way it should be done.) The most sensible approach would be to start next season with Frank, see how things go, and if it doesn't go well, fire him and move assistant Brian Hill over one seat.
Which leads me to wonder whether Frank wants to be in that position. He's liked and respected within the organization, but perhaps isn't the guy beyond next season. A graceful exit via the old reassignment route wouldn't be a bad option -- for either party.
Thorn was evasive a couple of weeks ago when I broached the topic of Frank's future. This week, owner Bruce Ratner came down solidly behind Frank. But of course he would do that; he's the guy who'd have to pay him and another coach next season if he fired him.
If I had to guess, I'd say Frank gracefully slides into another role in the organization and Vandeweghe tries to put his stamp on the franchise with an unorthodox hire. Just a guess.