Sat, Nov 06, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Nets finally begin to think long-term

NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION New Jersey said that Lawrence Frank had agreed to a contract extension, reportedly for three years at US$2.5 million a season

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEYAP, CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINAAP, MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA

Before Lawrence Frank succeeded Byron Scott as the Nets' head coach last January, Frank admitted he did not think much about ever being a head coach in the NBA.

"I just didn't see it," said Frank, who spent three and a half seasons as an assistant with the Nets under Scott. "My goal was to see if I could stay in the league as an assistant. I thought that was the greatest job there was."

But now he knows different. At a news conference Thursday morning, the Nets announced that Frank had signed a long-term contract extension that one league official with knowledge of the terms said was guaranteed for three years at roughly US$2.5 million a season. The Nets have an option for a fourth year.

When asked if he still thought being an assistant was the greatest job there was, Frank did not hesitate to answer.

"This tops it," said Frank, who at 34 is not only the youngest coach in the 30-team NBA but is also the youngest coach in any of the four major professional team sports, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Frank's contract extension was only the latest in a series of moves by the Nets, who are trying to solidify what is left of a team that won three consecutive Atlantic Division titles. After a new Nets ownership traded away Kenyon Martin and Kerry Kittles during the off-season, greatly diminishing the team's talent, the Nets did sign Richard Jefferson and Jason Collins to contract extensions of six and four years.

Rod Thorn, the team's president and the architect of the Nets' emergence as an NBA power, was awarded a five-year contract extension during the preseason. Frank said he signed his new deal Wednesday afternoon, hours before the Nets' opened their regular season with a disheartening 100-77 loss to the Miami Heat.

The lopsided defeat did not shake Thorn's confidence in Frank.

"I feel very strongly that Lawrence is a coach who will get us back to where we would like to be," Thorn said. "We'll never have to worry whether this team will be prepared."

When he took over the Nets last season as the interim head coach, Frank immediately guided the Nets to 13 consecutive victories and established an NBA record for a rookie coach.

Frank was named the Nets' full-time head coach on June 21. He now has the contract extension to go with it. But he also has a weakened team that was embarrassed by Miami on Wednesday night, even though Shaquille O'Neal was held to 16 points in his Heat debut.

The Nets' next game is against the Bulls in Chicago.

The NBA returned to Charlotte on Thursday after a two-year absence, but the expansion Bobcats opened their inaugural season with a 103-96 loss to the Washington Wizards.

Replacing the Hornets after they moved to New Orleans in 2002, the Bobcats are expected to struggle mightily this season. Still, they were in this one late as they tried to become the third consecutive expansion team to win its NBA debut, following Vancouver and Toronto (1995).

Charlotte fell short because of youth and inexperience. The game was tied at 85 midway through the fourth quarter when turnovers and poor shot selection allowed the Wizards to go on a decisive 9-0 run.

"We showed our stuff. We showed we're going to fight and play hard and try to win every night," said Emeka Okafor, the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft.

Antawn Jamison, a Charlotte native, led Washington with 24 points. Okafor, paced the Bobcats with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

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