2004-02-13 / Sports

Inside Pitch

By Bryan Hoch
Inside Pitch By Bryan Hoch

New Jersey Nets head coach Lawrence Frank talks to Jason Kidd. (AP/Miles Kennedy)New Jersey Nets head coach Lawrence Frank talks to Jason Kidd. (AP/Miles Kennedy)

For the Nets, it was a strange move, at best — canning their head coach while all appeared at least tolerable on the surface. But after watching New Jersey reel off a lengthy win streak, you have to concede that the Meadow lands warriors might have known what they were doing all along.

Since Byron Scott cleaned out his desk on Jan. 26, the future Brooklyn basketballers have been rolling under new play-caller Lawrence Frank, running a hot streak to 9-0 with a victory over the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday.

Just 33, Frank is the NBA’s youngest current head coach, and he’s had a Doogie Howser touch so far – in fact, Frank has a shot to enter the record books with the hottest start in history by a rookie coach, but even if the Nets get him those last two wins in succession, don’t expect any champagne to be popped in the bowels of East Ruther ford.

"He doesn’t care about that (stuff)," said Jason Kidd. "He wants to win."

The Scott era ended on a high note, with the veteran coach’s pink slip arriving the morning after a 19-point victory over the Celtics. Still, while New Jersey’s timing couldn’t be construed as anything but curious, there’s no denying that the Nets have played as a different team under new management.

New Jersey has latched onto a beautiful habit of aggressively containing opponents on the perimeter and rebounding strongly within the paint, limiting shooters to just one crack at the hoop before the Nets regain control and shift into what Frank calls basketball" mode.

Of course, that game plan relies heavily on the Kidd, the All-Star who’s averaging 18.3 points per game since the coaching change and claims that the team is "more relaxed" and "more serious" under Frank’s guidance. Perhaps Kidd is attributing his own sentiments to the entire roster – it’s generally believed that Kidd had a significant role in Scott’s axing, since his alleged influence over management and coaches puts even the Mets’ dabbling Al Leiter and Tom Glavine to shame.

Still, as long as there’s a continuous triple-double threat emanating from New Jersey’s point guard, who’s really going to point fingers?

The Nets still aren’t quite up to the snuff of their last two seasons, in which they beat up on the Eastern Conference and made back-to-back appearances in the NBA Finals. Even so, the torrid win streak has done a great deal to improve the club’s public perception and their internal attitude.

It’s clear just by observing players and their expressions on the floor that they’re having fun, which is sadly more than you could say for the final days of the Scott regime. To a man, the Nets are no longer afraid to make mistakes and are more willing to play aggressively on the fly, a main component in the club’s recent success – accordingly, with the All-Star Break looming ahead, a formerly struggling Nets team now finds itself within striking range of the East’s final playoff spot.

Of course, the laws of averages tell us that Frank’s first loss as an NBA head coach has to be right around the corner, and with it will go some of the Nets’ current aura of invincibility. No matter. You couldn’t tell it by hanging around the Meadowlands these days.

For the Nets, by doing the unthinkable – booting a perennially contending head coach the morning after a victory – suddenly, nothing seems impossible.

95Tony Clark could find his Yankees career over before it even begins. Perhaps more unsettled by Jason Giambi’s bad knees than they’re letting on, the team has entered negotiations with free-agent Travis Lee in the hopes of convincing the former Devil Rays first baseman to join the Yankees before spring training begins.

There’s no question that Lee, who popped 19 homers for Lou Piniella’s club last season, has more to offer offensively and defensively than Clark. But, as we learned last year with the Mets, Clark – who’s going to earn $350,000 from the Yan kees regardless of whether he plays an inning in pinstripes – is a cohesive veteran presence in the clubhouse whose value goes beyond his numbers. With caustic personalities like Kevin Brown and Kenny Lofton checking into the Bronx, Clark’s smoothing impact could be an intangible worth valuing.

95The Jets are giving a look to Cana dian Football League star Ricky Ray, which could be a sign that Vinny Tes t averde’s days of backing up Chad Pennington are over.

Testaverde, 40, has maintained over and over that he has no problem playing second fiddle (but not third) in the Jets’ scheme, and he did perform well in the six games the Jets played without Pennington due to injury. Still, we wonder if the Jets might be better off ifTestaverde’s job description with the Jets didn’t include holding a clipboard.

95 We’ve got to say it once again: if you’ve got a young one on the way, make him use that left hand-it could be your key to riches. Ancient southpaw Terry Muholland turns 41 next month, but the one-time Yankee has latched on with the Mariners as a situational lefty.

Email Bryan Hoch: bryanhoch@yahoo.com

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