#6: Rod Thorn

I could talk about Rod Thorn’s charisma, the slight twang in his accent, how he always came off as an affable, upstanding man. I could talk about how Thorn arguably was the fairest Executive VP of Player Operations the league has ever seen, curtailing the violent play of the 80s and 90s as he ruled with a calm iron fist. I could talk about how his NBA playing career influenced his future in front office politics.

But those things are only a modicum of your overall impact. Truthfully, your record defines your greatness. And Rod Thorn’s front office record with the Nets is nothing short of phenomenal.

Let’s go through his record.

For his first move as GM, Thorn selected Kenyon Martin with the #1 pick in the 2000 draft — a move that seems obvious in hindsight, but at the time Martin was recovering from a season-ending knee injury, and Stromile Swift and Chris Mihm both were potential all-stars. (I know, I’m laughing too.) The Magic had offered Corey Maggette and all three of their first-round picks (5/10/13) for the top pick, but Thorn turned it down. Those picks became Mike Miller, Keyon Dooling, and Corey Alexander. Miller carved out a nice career as a shooter, but the Nets didn’t need another perimeter player. Thorn, notorious for playing his cards close to his chest, also threw constant smokescreens about his intentions with the #3 pick in 2010.{{1}} [[1]]Though he didn’t fool anyone here when feigned interest in Wesley Johnson.[[1]]

In acquiring Richard Jefferson and Jason Collins the next year, Thorn gave up 7th overall pick Eddie Griffin — a talented but troubled prospect that never lived up to his potential. (Aside: In 2004, Thorn signed Griffin as a free agent. He never suited up.)

Jefferson became one of the more electrically productive small forwards in the NBA, and Collins held down the paint defensively — becoming, according to some advanced metrics, one of the best interior defenders in the NBA.

Less than a month later, Thorn gave up Stephon Marbury, Johnny Newman, and Soumaila Samake for Chris Dudley and Jason Kidd.

On a related note, Thorn won the 2001-02 Executive of the Year Award.

In the summer of 2004, Thorn bluffed Kiki Vandeweghe into giving him three first-round picks for the privilege of signing K-Mart for 7 years and $91 million. Martin required microfracture surgery on his left knee within a year, and another microfracture surgery on his right knee a year later. He never equaled his New Jersey production in Denver.

Midway through that 2004 season, Thorn gave up Alonzo Mourning, Aaron Williams, Eric Williams, and two of the first-round picks Kiki gifted Thorn in the K-Mart deal for Vince Carter. Mourning never played a game in Toronto, neither Williams hit the 500-minute mark in Toronto, and the draft picks became Joey Graham and Renaldo Balkman. Vince Carter is second on the Nets all-time scoring list, and first in points per game among NBA Nets.

When a disgruntled Jason Kidd demanded a trade in 2007, Thorn didn’t take a salary dump, instead squeezing Mark Cuban for Devin Harris, some inconsequential players, and two first-round picks — one that became Ryan Anderson, and another that (eventually) became Damion James.

Those are the big ones, but Thorn hit on the smaller deals as well. In the summer of 2006, he dealt a meaningless second-round pick for Mikki Moore{{2}}, then let him walk after a career year netted him an $18 million contract in Sacramento. He traded Eduardo Najera — only in a Nets uniform for marketing purposes — for Kris Humphries, who broke out last year, averaged a double-double, and married Kim Kardashian.{{3}}
[[2]]My clearest memory of Mikki Moore: At the final game of the 2006 calendar year against the Timberwolves, which was also the last game the NBA used that awful basketball they were trying at the time. Mikki sauntered up and down the court, didn’t miss a shot in nine attempts, outplayed Kevin Garnett, and took in chants of “MI-KKI! MI-KKI!” in the second half as the Nets won handily. No one got chants in Continental. No one. But Mikki did.[[2]]
[[3]]Talk about marketing.[[3]]

Think of it this way: without Thorn’s eye for trades and the right selection in the 2000 draft, the Nets could’ve had a 2002 starting lineup of Stephon Marbury, Kerry Kittles, Johnny Newman, Eddie Griffin, and Chris Mihm.{{4}}
[[4]]Counterpoint: that atrocious lineup almost guarantees the Nets a top-4 pick in an absolutely loaded 2003 draft. Had Thorn come on in 2002, the Nets could’ve had one of LeBron/Wade/Melo/Bosh long before they failed to acquire them in 2010, and filled out the roster from there. It’s almost depressing that stupidity might’ve paid off in the long run, though given that the Nets took Nenad Krstic and Zoran Planinic with first-round picks in 2002 and 2003, Thorn might’ve actually gone with *gulp* Darko. Maybe history worked out after all.[[4]]

Thorn was by no means perfect. Among other mishaps, the Richard Jefferson deal seemed incomplete without the Milwaukee Bucks’ 8th overall pick, Vince Carter’s salary dump was nearly completely devoid of talent coming in the other direction, and dear God, he gave $45 million to Travis Outlaw and Johan Petro as a parting gift to this franchise.{{5}}
[[5]]Some others of note other mishaps: signing Todd MacCullouch to six years and $33.7 million, then trading him and Keith Van Horn a year later for 34 of the worst games of Dikembe Mutombo’s career; trading Kyle Korver for basically nothing; skipping on Danny Granger for Antoine Wright in the 2005 draft; and missing on three draft picks in four years named Williams (Marcus, Sean, and Terrence).[[5]]

But taking his Nets career as a collective whole, for orchestrating a two-time Eastern Conference Champion with only 1.5 holdover starters (one year of Keith Van Horn, two of Kittles), one top-5 draft pick — the #1 overall pick in what’s widely regarded as the weakest draft in NBA history — and a flurry of astoundingly valuable trades, Thorn deserves a gold medal. Hopefully, he’ll settle for being #6.