Let's be Frank, winless Nets are a mess

On Sunday night, the New Jersey Nets lost 106-87 to the Los Angeles Lakers in a game in which they stayed competitive for roughly five minutes. They are now 0-17, tied for the worst start to a season in NBA history, and will have former franchise cornerstone Jason Kidd in the house when the Dallas Mavericks attempt to tag them with the unprecedented and dubious distinction that an 0-18 record would carry with it.

The Nets are a bigger mess than they've been at any time since 1976, when former owner Roy Boe had to sell Julius Erving to the Philadelphia 76ers to raise the money to pay the indemnity fee the Nets owed to the New York Knicks for infringing upon their territory when the NBA and ABA merged.

On Sunday, the Nets fired longtime coach Lawrence Frank and put the team in the hands of "temporary" interim coach Tom Barrise, an assistant coach under Frank. Barrise is among several candidates to become the "permanent" interim coach, a list that includes assistant coach John Loyer and general manager Kiki Vandeweghe, whose incursions into the locker room last season prompted Frank to tell Rod Thorn that he'd rather be fired than have Vandeweghe continue to meddle outside his designated sphere of operations, a source told ESPN.com.

The plan for who will coach the Nets over the final 65 games of the season will be discussed Monday at organizational meetings in East Rutherford, N.J., a gathering of lame ducks that'll include Rod Thorn, the team president who, like Vandeweghe and Frank, is in the final season of his contract, and Brett Yormark, the head of the team's business operations.

"This is the business we chose, and so we move forward. You jump in the deep end, and the sharks are there. You've got to swim." That was the Soprano-esque pregame quote from Barrise, the Paterson, N.J., native and former Nets advance scout who described himself as "somber" to be taking over, at least on an interim basis, for a friend he had worked alongside for 10 years.

The dismissal of Frank was described by one source close to the team as a "mercy firing," a decision that ultimately had to be approved by Bruce Ratner. The lame duck owner is in the midst of selling the team to Russian oligarch and billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who hopes to become the point man for the team's eventual move to Brooklyn.

But that move is still contingent on bonds being sold, property being condemned and temporary restraining orders being avoided -- all before Dec. 31, when Ratner needs to have broken ground on the Brooklyn complex to secure financing through a set of expiring tax-free bonds. If a master closing on the Brooklyn project is not completed by Jan. 1, the deal with Prokhorov, as presently constituted, would be off.

Plus, the NBA's board of governors still must sign off on the sale after an exhaustive background investigation of Prokhorov is completed.

And if that situation weren't confusing enough, it's possible the Nets will temporarily relocate to Newark as soon as next season.

So even more turmoil could be ahead, but this is a Nets team that came into the season knowing it would be Limbo Headquarters. Six players are on expiring contracts, the food in the locker room and aboard the charter plane has been perceptibly downgraded, and the front-office staff was trimmed substantially when Ratner put the team on the market and started making furtive trips to Russia this past summer.

Cost-cutting will remain en vogue while the sale of the franchise remains pending, and Rafer Alston was joking back in the preseason that the Nets' locker room would be known as Buyout Central between the trade deadline and the March 1 deadline for players to be waived while retaining playoff eligibility if they sign with another team. (Alston, Tony Battie, Jarvis Hayes and Trenton Hassell are candidates, and we'd add Bobby Simmons if it weren't unwise to give back a single dollar in a buyout because no playoff-bound team would want him -- that's how precipitously the former Most Improved Player award winner's stock has dropped.)

The Nets' long-term plan -- aside from the Brooklyn move -- is to be a major player on the summer of 2010 free-agent market. Rapper Jay-Z will retain his small piece of Nets ownership if and when the Ratner-Prokhorov transaction is completed, and there remains a school of thought that Jay-Z's friendship with LeBron James could influence James' free-agency decision in July when New Jersey will be more than $20 million below the salary cap.

The Nets' core going forward includes Devin Harris, Brook Lopez and Yi Jianlian, with long-term decisions forthcoming in the next 18 months on Courtney Lee, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Josh Boone and rookie Terrence Williams. (Sean Williams is a goner, Keyon Dooling is under contract for one more season at $3.8 million and Eduardo Najera will clog the cap at $2.8 million next season and $2.6 million in 2011-12.)

Meanwhile, the hunt for victory No. 1 will end eventually, and the season will progress toward a loss total bordering on the absurd and perhaps record-setting: The NBA record for the worst win-loss mark is 9-73 by the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers.