NEW YORK – The Brooklyn Nets' unusual decision to banish Lawrence Frank last week led to an entertaining parody blog and probably the most coverage of an assistant-coaching change in league history.
But that decision seems to have resulted in an unexpected pivot point for the Nets, who have leveraged it as a way to restart their season. Thursday, they beat a tired Los Angeles Clippers team 102-93 to assemble their first three-game win streak and looked like a completely different team than the one that was embarrassed by 30 points against the New York Knicks a week earlier.
The Frank change has acted like a shock to the system. Combined with the return of Deron Williams from injury and the move to put Paul Pierce in a reserve role, the Nets are actually showing some promise.
It's unfair to brand Frank a scapegoat, though with his $6 million contract and a new, high-powered lawyer, he will eventually be well compensated for his troubles. Rookie coach Jason Kidd could have easily made all the changes that are now working with Frank still sitting to his left, but at the end of the day, Kidd is the boss.
Doing it this way, though, seems to have gotten Kidd's team to pull together and become more interested in executing changes that have been put into the game plans. They look more organized and energized, and suddenly you can get an idea of how they might be able make things work.
"When all the changes were made, the first thing you notice about Jason is he took charge and trusted in who he was," Kevin Garnett said about his coach. "We kind of backed that up by just showing a better effort and coming out and believing in what he's saying to us."
It is natural to wonder why this wouldn't have been the case from the start of the season, especially with a veteran team that shouldn't need a mind trick like this. But history tells us chemistry is a fragile element in the NBA, and there have been plenty of times when what seems like a minor addition or subtraction can kick-start a team -- just not with an assistant coach.
The Nets have indeed made some scheme changes, most notably they are being more aggressive on the defensive end by attacking pick-and-rolls. This maneuver worked especially well on the Clippers, who didn't seem to have the energy or the interest to fight when the Nets took away their first option. Playing a back-to-back in the sixth game of an Eastern Conference road trip with several key players out with injury, perhaps that should not be a stunner.
Regardless, the defense that was ranked No. 29 in the league looks to have new life during the win streak.
"The guys are executing the game plan," Kidd said. "They're trusting one another and they're finishing with a rebound. ... We've asked them about doing different things defensively and they've done it."
Williams' return has certainly played a big factor as well -- he had his second consecutive strong game after missing three weeks with a sprained ankle. He showed no ill effects and was cutting and creating space all over the court. He also essentially outplayed Chris Paul, who had 20 points but a season-low two assists.
When Williams can move like this, the Nets are so much more dynamic offensively and no longer look as old and as sluggish as they did over the first month of the season.
"You can see the energy has picked up and the pace has picked up, and I have a little bit to do with that," said Williams, who had 15 points and didn't need to play the fourth quarter. "It looks like we're having fun out there, and I think that's the difference."
Pierce is also back from a hand injury and is stomaching playing on the second unit. When he's out there with that group, they seem to take on a different look altogether and it lightens the load on Joe Johnson, who had been playing heavy minutes with that unit. Pierce isn't in love with the new setup, but that group turned the game in the Nets' favor with a huge second quarter Thursday, and he's willing to stay with it.
"I'm playing my part in this and that's what it is, to lead the second team," Pierce said. "As long as things keep going and we're winning games, I'm sacrificing for the good of the team."
The Nets are still far from healthy; Kidd hinted before the game that Andrei Kirilenko could be out until January with back problems, and Brook Lopez aggravated an ankle injury that could cause him to miss Friday's game in Detroit, when the winning streak will be tested against the big Pistons.
But even with the Lopez news, there were no lowered heads in the Nets locker room. For the time being, they do indeed seem to have a new lease on their season.
"We are playing better, we're a working group," Garnett said. "We put ourselves in this hole, but we're committed toward, obviously, getting ourselves out of it. The changes are evident."