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More lows for Nets, Frank

11/25/2009

There was undeniable positivity in New Jersey on Tuesday morning when a promising court ruling appeared -- we repeat: appeared -- to remove the most daunting legal hurdle in the Nets' relocation saga. Which thus gives franchise its strongest belief to date that the dream move to Brooklyn can really happen in time for the 2011-12 season.

Tuesday night's loss in Denver, however, kept Nets coach Lawrence Frank right where he's been since Saturday's humbling home loss to the Knicks . . . facing increasing pressure as the league's new consensus favorite (ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers' Mike Dunleavy) to be the second coach fired this season after New Orleans' Byron Scott.

The 101-87 defeat to the Nuggets was the first time in November that Frank was able to play All-Star point Devin Harris, center Brook Lopez and swingman Courtney Lee on the same night. Injuries have decimated Frank's roster during this 0-14 nightmare.

Yet there are growing indications that an 0-4 record on the Nets' current West Coast trip -- which continues with stops in Portland, Sacramento and Los Angeles to play the Lakers -- could indeed cost Frank his job.

Frank told reporters after the Nets' latest setback that this was the worst loss of the season to date because of the team's "unacceptable" effort and energy . . . hours after one source close to the situation said that Frank would not be able to survive a winless trip.

"The Lawrence Frank Watch," he said, "has officially begun."

It seems reasonable to ask: Could a 1-3 record on the trip, compared to 0-4, make such a drastic difference that it saves Frank? Logic says no, but word is that the atmosphere around the team is growing increasingly negative as the Nets' wait for a win approaches unwanted-history territory.

If the Nets don't find a way to dig out one of the next three games or the Dec. 2 home date with Dallas and Nets alumnus Jason Kidd, New Jersey will set a league record for the worst-ever start at 0-18. So one win in the next week actually could be that huge.

Firing Frank if that W doesn't come soon, cruel as it might seem given how short-handed New Jersey has been all month, looks like the fastest way to shake things up and change the locker-room atmosphere, given that outgoing owner Bruce Ratner has been in payroll-slashing mode for months and is not prepared to make any significant tweaks to the roster before his transfer of team control to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.

Perhaps the best insulation Frank has to hang on is the absence of an obvious choice to step in as interim coach for the rest of the season. Frank's four main assistants in the wake of top aide Brian Hill's departure to Detroit are either unheralded or inexperienced: Tom Barrise, John Loyer, Doug Overton and Roy Rogers.

Another source close to the situation said told ESPN.com: "The team hasn't lost interest in each other, which is a good sign, but I don't know how much more interest they have in [Frank's message]."

The prevailing wisdom in coaching circles until this week held that Frank would be safe until the Nets got healthier . . . or as close to full strength as this stripped-down, starting-over team can be these days. But that apparently changed when the Nets' misery reached new lows in that Saturday matinee loss at home to their neighbors from New York, who haven't exactly been rolling lately.

You'll certainly recall that Frank won his first 13 games as an NBA head coach after replacing Scott. He's the longest-tenured coach in the East, having replaced Scott on Jan. 25, 2004, some three months before Boston hired Doc Rivers.

You can also understand why A) Frank would love to find a way to survive somehow beyond this season and B) Jersey should have no trouble attracting quality coaching candidates to take over when the search for a full-time successor begins after the season. Prokhorov is expected to assume full ownership control before next season and will start out with loads of salary-cap space for next summer, Harris and Lopez as prime building blocks and Brooklyn finally within sight.