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.