EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The players heard the questions, saw the headlines, read the stories and if they didn’t they had someone tell them about what’s being said.
Their coach’s job isn’t entirely safe and the perception is they’ve quit on themselves, the season, the fans, the organization — you name it.
That was all the motivation the Nets needed; the latter more so than Lawrence Frank’s status.
No athlete wants to be called a quitter. Predictably, the Nets rose up and played one of their most complete games of the season, or at least in about a month and a day, in beating the Pistons, 111-98, Wednesday night.
“We did what we’re supposed to do,” Frank said. “We competed. We played hard. We played together. That’s what we expect. It’s not a cure-all.
Not all the problems in the world are solved because we won tonight.”
This doesn’t solve everything or anything. It just means the Nets are listening. The question is to whom? The media or their coach or the little voice in their heads? For argument’s sake let’s say all three.
As much as athletes say they don’t care what’s written or said — they do. Think about it: what motivated the Nets to start the season — everyone saying they were going to be terrible.
You want to believe they’re still playing for Frank. He works as hard as anyone, is loyal, has helped many of them have career years and doesn’t say look at the team I was given. He always believes he has enough to win and tries to put his players in position to win.
The prior two games, though, something was amiss.
Falling behind by 18 to Minnesota was despicable. Not bouncing back and trailing by almost double that — 35 — at home to Milwaukee when theoretically you’re still in the race is indicting.
Frank took the heat for it because the appearance was the Nets had given up and because you can’t fire a whole team.
But, some stories and some headlines pointed to the most damaging of charges — quitting — and that woke up the players. Some were a bit defensive about it. Others didn’t think it was the case. No matter, it struck a chord with the Nets.
The result was they looked much more like a playoff team than the currently playoff-bound Pistons last night. The Nets shot 51.3 percent, had six guys in double-figures and had two fewer assists than in the two embarrassing defeats combined (29).
“I think it says a couple things,” Keyon Dooling said. “It says when we play the right way, we’re pretty competitive. And also it says we haven’t mailed it in.”
The Nets didn’t save their coach’s job with this performance, but they saved face. If they want to save his job, they have to have seven more performances like this one and really who knows if that will be enough?
Team president Rod Thorn doesn’t want to fire Frank, whom he has backed and supported through many tough times.
Frank has stayed the course in the face of many distractions, handled his share of adversity and had a team that no one expected to win more than 25 games in the playoff race until recently. The Nets are still in, but with seven games left, a 4 1/2-game deficit may be too hard to overcome.
Thorn will look at the complete body of work before he makes any decisions, and don’t think that finances won’t play a part.
Frank makes $4.4 million next season. Figure the next coach makes at least that. Ownership doesn’t want to pay $9 million for one man.
There’s a chance Frank will be back and given another shot with some of these same players and not just because of the finances, but because he deserves it.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).