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An Inverted Willie Randolph

In 2008, you’ll recall, the Mets let Willie Randolph dangle on the precipice of removal, take a flight to the West Coast, manage one game in Anaheim and then fired him (announcing it, infamously, after 3:00 AM Eastern time). It all seemed pretty shabby [1].

Not quite eighteen months later, the New Jersey Nets, off to a potentially historic bad start, have fired their head coach [2], Lawrence Frank, with one game remaining on a punishing West Coast trip. They are 0-16. If they go 0-17, they will tie the NBA record for worst start ever. Without knowing very much about the internal machinations of the Nets, other than they can’t be too terribly effective, I can’t tell whether this is merciful or overkill. Frank was once a successful coach, just as the Nets were once a leading franchise in the NBA Eastern Conference. He seems like the kind of guy who’d want one more chance to lead his team away from eternal notoriety. Tonight they play the Lakers in Los Angeles. Frank could have at least gone down fighting, going out as the guy who tried to halt history before it ate up whatever’s left of the Nets’ 2009-10 season.

On the other hand, at least now his name won’t be attached [3] to the record loss if it occurs. He presumably gets to fly home on his own, apart from the players who have failed him…or the players who failed in concert with him…or the players who failed because of him. I have to confess that although I list the Nets as my favorite NBA team, that’s like choosing my favorite opera singer most of the time. I don’t really follow the league anymore, and my fealty to the Nets is mostly a matter of sentiment dating back to the ABA [4]. Still, as the Nets have edged closer to 0-17, I’ve actually been watching them a little (even though that requires tuning in YES). I understand they’ve been saddled with injuries and lost a couple of close ones early on. But as I’ve watched them, they’ve just looked beaten. Frank has looked beaten. Hard to argue the dismissal of a coach with an 0-16 record isn’t justified.

But they had to off their coach of more than five years before he could maybe, just maybe go 1-16 as long as the Nets were ending their road trip anyway? Is his interim successor, Tom Barrise, that much of a sparkplug? Will the Nets players be so happy to be rid of Frank that they’ll be fired up and ready to go against the 12-3 Lakers? Then again, if this was inevitable (which it reportedly was), why not get it over with and put Frank out of his misery and on a plane home?

You can’t quantify taste, but this doesn’t taste right.

In 2008, the right thing to do would have been to have told Willie Randolph not to board that westbound flight, to not make him go through the motions of one more game as skipper if he was going to be done 24 hours later regardless. Omar Minaya claimed he had to sleep on it before definitively issuing Willie a return ticket to New York. There was also the issue of the Mets not wanting to fire their manager on Father’s Day. No matter how they did it, it would have stung. It stung that much more because how clumsily [5] the Mets handled the matter.

The Nets, somehow, look even clumsier.

FOR THE RECORD: The Nets have indeed become the co-losingest team out of the gate in NBA history, going down haplessly to the Lakers [6] Sunday night and joining the 1988-89 Miami Heat and the lockout-year 1999 L.A. Clippers in 0-17 infamy. The temp coach did not fire them up. On the bright side, you can be a lousy 3-14 team like the Knicks and show yourself as nothing special or you can be a landmark lousy team like the Nets and be really nothing special. Either way, they both make the Mets look downright semi-competent.