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Harris Reminds Us of Harsh Coaching Truth

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While the New Jersey Nets have been far from consistent this season, their point guard never seems to lack for a noteworthy comment after a blowout loss.

Earlier this season, we chastised Devin Harris for his absurd "I was perturbed" rhetoric after Lawrence Frank benched him in the second half of a second consecutive rout at the hands of the Celtics.

Harris returned to the mic after the Nets' second straight disastrous performance this week, a 107-78 home pounding at the hands of the Bucks following a loss to a depleted Timberwolves team. While I'm not entirely sure how to read the following remarks from Harris' standpoint, he paints a sobering picture of the situation for his coach.

As reported by the Bergen Record's Al Iannazzone:

Devin Harris was asked if he's concerned about Frank's future after these two losses and said he was.

"Most definitely," Harris said. "Obviously it doesn't look good. The effort hasn't been there and somebody has to take the blame. Tonight, like I said, we didn't come to play, right on down the line, myself, Vince and the rest of the guys and we said. Just an all-around bad effort. I take that back. The guys who came in in the third quarter fought and played hard but I mean the guys before."

On one hand, credit Harris for taking some accountability and admitting that he and his teammates put out substandard effort in the two games before Wednesday's victory over Detroit. 

But it's that "somebody has to take the blame" line that reminds us of the reality for coaches at the professional level.

These men are supposedly at the helm of the teams they coach, the theoretical immediate superiors to their players.  But with very few exceptions, they make significantly less money than their subordinates.  Too often, in what is assuredly a player's league first and foremost, they are left completely at the mercy of the roster provided to them by their front office.  When that roster doesn't get the job done, change becomes inevitable.  Their contracts don't count against the salary cap.  It tends to be a lot easier on a number of levels for the front office to change the man reportedly at the top rather than the roster it created, no matter the where the blame truly lies.

That isn't meant as a sob story on behalf of NBA coaches.  Without question, they are well compensated to coach a game and occasionally to simply baby-sit at this level.  But that doesn't mean it isn't difficult to deal with the tenuous nature of job security described above.

Harris says he worries for Frank's future while condemning his own poor play as though there is nothing he can do for his coach.  Given the way this league works, it seems hard to believe that his word wouldn't make a difference if he offered a vote of confidence for his coach to the league's head honchos.

In the bigger scheme of things, while I haven't always been Frank's biggest fan, it would be disappointing to see him canned at the end of this particular season.  His front office completely sandbagged any win-now efforts from the start, making it clear with its dumping of Richard Jefferson and insistence on bargain-basement signings  that the plan is to bank for 2010. 

For much of this campaign, Frank has had an overmatched Nets team playing over its head, with Vince Carter putting out more effort than expected (most of the time, at least) and Brook Lopez producing nicely in his rookie season.  While the Nets have fallen all but out of the playoff race with a 3-9 stretch of late, it's worth noting that seven of those games came on the road, including a brutal four-games-in-six-days run out on the west coast.  And again, his team just isn't that good.

When I talked to WFAN talk radio host and Nets devotee Evan Roberts earlier this season, he indicated he was thrilled with Frank's work so far:

The Little General Lawrence Frank deserved to get fired a year ago.   I thought that he was the wrong man for a veteran team whose window was closing quickly.  With that said, the Nets have gone through a major makeover since that time, and this team suits him better.  He is a great teacher to younger players and is the perfect coach for this team.   Not only that, thus far he has been a Coach of the Year candidate.

At this point, Frank can pack it in on Coach of the Year, but the rest of the sentiments likely still stand.  Brook Lopez has come along well in his inaugural campaign, and Ryan Anderson has been up and down, as one would expect from a late first-round pick.  Frank had this team in the playoff race (crawl?) far longer than most observers expected, and at times this year he has gotten Vince Carter to play some of his most inspired basketball.

He hasn't been perfect by any means, but it hardly seems fair for Frank to meet his end in New Jersey thanks to a team that wasn't constructed to win now finally self-destructing down the stretch.

But sadly, that could be exactly what happens because, as the point guard says, "Somebody has to take the blame."

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