What? You didn't hear? The Nets are now the Washington Generals of the NBA.
Sure, they're based in Jersey, but to call them the New Jersey Generals would be an insult to the USFL team that at least was competitive.
Those Generals featured a star player who just recently admitted to having multiple personality disorder. At least the Nets don't have that problem. Despite their protestations every year under Frank that they "are searching for their personality", they need search no more. They have a single personality - they are the foil to every other team's feel good story. They are the team you play to break a losing streak, to turn your season around, to play that guy who has missed 6 weeks to injury. They are the team you play to get it going. They are the Washington Generals to everybody else's Harlem Globetrotters.
The Generals are not supposed to win. Their very purpose is to lose, and to allow the Globetrotters to make astounding plays, and to be the fall guys in all the Globetrotters zany, funny routines. They're the guys who always say "Who's there?" when the other guys say "Knock, knock".
"Josh Boone who?"
"Josh Boone who couldn't make a foul shot if his life depended on it. Josh Boone who we're gonna foul possession after possession to kill your rally and kill your momentum and kill your confidence. Josh Boone who your coach won't take out despite having at least 3 other options sitting on the bench."
"Lawrence Frank who?"
"Lawrence Frank who has a set script from which he will not vary. Lawrence Frank who could be replaced by a computer. Lawrence Frank who is the only man in the building who doesn't get that Don Nelson is going to exploit Frank's team's weak point all night, daring him to do something about it. Lawrence Frank who doesn't even get that he's being dared."
Cheryl Miller interviewed none other than Rod Thorn in the first half last night. So Rod, with your team struggling so bad, is Coach Frank in danger? No, he's doing a good job. Our players are just underperforming for some reason, but hey, despite how poorly we're playing, we're only percentage points out of a playoff berth. Ok, so what about a possible player move? Well, we've gotten a lot of calls and there's nothing that we're remotely interested in.
Rod Thorn, along with Jason Kidd, turned an absolutely moribund franchise into an NBA Finals team in one year. I have never seen anything like it in the history of pro sports that I have been watching. Sure, I've seen Tim Duncan and Magic Johnson help their teams turn around and go to the finals, and even win, but we're talking the Spurs, who, due to the Admiral being out, had exactly one losing season at that time after having just had seasons of 59, 62, 55, 49, 47, 55 and 56 wins; and the Lakers. Enough said. Rod Thorn, who was the GM of the Bulls during the Jordan years, who engineered the Jordan years.
Rod Thorn, who showed passion and intensity and intelligence during the Nets brief finals run, who pulled out the Vince Carter deal after the twin debacles of Alonzo Mourning and the bonehead decision by ownership to let Kenyon Martin walk. Rod Thorn, who knew enough to fire Byron Scott when he needed to be fired.
Thorn basically says to Miller, well, what can I do? I can't fire the coach, and I can't make a deal. What can I do?
The Nets, who until this year, dominated their cross river rivals in the Jason Kidd era, are now becoming them. The Dolans are not stupid; they're just not motivated. Ok, maybe they ARE stupid, but either way they clearly are not motivated. Every night, no matter how many actually show, the Garden is sold out. Perhaps if the World's Most Famous Arena were as empty as the Meadowlands, they might be motivated to fire Isiah, as the crowd chants. No, the Dolans aren't stupid.
And neither is Rod Thorn. He has an owner, a boss, who could CARE LESS about how that supposed basketball team in Jersey is doing. To him it's not a team, it's a big pawn in a real estate development scheme. Ratner was a client of mine in the 90s, and even 10 years ago Forest City Ratner had been trying to get the redevelopment of the Brooklyn rail yards for a decade, with no success and no momentum. Bringing Brooklyn its first professional sports franchise since the Dodgers left town in 1957 could be just the ticket to get the project going again, and done.
And so he buys the Nets who, for the first time in their ragged history, were catching fire, who, if it weren't for JKidd's bum knee, would have gone to the finals 3 years in a row and could well have knocked off a Laker team wracked with dissention. He buys them, in 2004, and says Hey - in 5 years I'm moving the team to Brooklyn.
Zo hears this and freaks. Kenyon is let go. Kittles is not re-upped. Kidd goes under the knife.
If the owner doesn't care about basketball, what can Thorn do? What leverage does he have with the coach? Can he go to Ratner, flush from the latter's courtroom victory against those who would stop the development project, and say, Hey boss, we need a new coach? What can he say to Ratner who would be on the hook for one and a half years' salary? Especially when they are a few percentage points out of a playoff berth? I mean, the owner has done everything but drive a stake thru the heart of this team, and yet they make the playoffs every year. What can Thorn say?
And do you think Frank doesn't know he's golden? What motivation does he have to change? Even if he had the creativity to do so, what motivation does he have?
So if the stubborn coach is not going anywhere, what motivation do the players have to play better?
Pride. That's it. And there is exactly one player who, night in and night out, plays with pride.
The Generals, when they play the Trotters, always have one guy who can play, who can drain a 3 or drive the basket and make it look a little like a basketball game. This team that "plays" in the Izod Center, they are the Generals.
Rod Thorn: Knock, Knock!
Cheryl Miller: Who's there?
Rod Thorn: Beats the heck outta me!