By Ohm Youngmisuk
New York Daily News
HOUSTON - Lawrence Frank has taken heat this season for not playing his reserves enough. But Rod Thorn says ultimately it will be his fault if the Nets' bench fails to live up to expectations.
"For sure," said Thorn, whose Nets played the Rockets last night. "That's the way it should be."
Thorn and GM Ed Stefanski thought they had assembled the Nets' finest second unit of the Jason Kidd era over the summer. They traded for toughness and a low-post presence in Marc Jackson. They lured Jeff McInnis to be Kidd's best understudy yet and provide instant offense. They added shooters in Scott Padgett and Lamond Murray. And they drafted Antoine Wright.
But with the exception of Wright, Jacque Vaughn and Clifford Robinson, the Nets' reserves do not play the type of defense Frank demands.
So the result has been the starters playing heavy minutes and many of the reserves sitting and watching in frustration.
Outside of Vaughn and Robinson, the rest of the bench has played sparingly most of the season. Jackson grew so frustrated, he asked to be traded and was obliged at the trading deadline.
McInnis wasn't happy with his role before injuring his knee and undergoing surgery in January. Padgett hit a shooting slump and promptly fell out of the rotation, logging two straight DNPs going into last night. He sat right next to Murray at the end of the bench.
Wright has earned playing time as the third guy off the bench and only now is showing glimpses of why the Nets invested the No. 15 overall pick on him.
Thorn admitted to being frustrated at times with Frank's usage of the bench. But the Nets' president adamantly reiterated that his coach is not in any danger, as one published report maintained.
After losing five of six games and playing his starters exhausting minutes, Frank vowed to use his bench more before beating New Orleans on Sunday. He dusted off Zoran Planinic, who rewarded Frank with a season-high 11 points in 13 minutes. It was only the third time a reserve other than Robinson had reached double figures in the last 23 games.
Many of the reserves have played tentatively, afraid to make a mistake in fear of Frank yanking them quickly. Frank wants to win so badly, there is little room for error.
But Planinic played with little fear, driving the lane hard and dunking on his first basket. He shot three-pointers, drove hard and drew fouls and delivered one deft bounce pass to Nenad Krstic off a pick-and-roll for a score.
"I was on the bench so long it didn't matter any more," the 6-7 guard said of being afraid to make mistakes. "I didn't think that. I just tried to go out and play."
The Nets exercised an option in Planinic's contract to keep him for another season after the guard had a strong preseason. But Planinic lost his spot in the rotation by December and his playing time has been sporadic. Now he hopes to keep giving Frank further reason to rest Kidd and Vince Carter.