The Rod Thorn Years

With tomorrow expected to be Rod Thorn’s last day with the Nets organization before he either edges into retirement or finds another job in this league, I thought it would be appropriate to relive the highs and lows of his tenure with the organization. It was undoubtedly a roller coaster with Thorn, who was the NBA’s executive of the year in 2002 while the organization found itself in back-to-back Finals before vying for the worst record of all-time in the latter stages of his time here. For the sake of avoiding arguments, I’m not going to rank these highs and lows – but feel free to use the comments section to dispute or arrange what I’ve put down.

The Highs

1.  The Nets Acquire Jason Kidd for Stephon Marbury (7/18/01): This is an obvious choice and if I was ranking, would have been the #1 choice without question. For those who subscribe to the “In Thorn We Trust” mantra, this deal was probably the driving force behind your philosophy. When the Nets shipped Marbury for Kidd the initial hope was that a change of scenery may help Kidd, who was dealing with some off-the-court issues that led to his ouster from Phoenix, despite being a triple-double machine. Kidd made his legacy in New Jersey, and brought the team to back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals, in addition to consistent playoff berths for the next six years. His tenure didn’t end on the highest note, especially with “migraine-gate” and his demanding of a trade, but if Thorn and his braintrust don’t trust their gut and take a chance on Kidd, the Nets would probably be more irrelevant than the LA Clippers.

2. The Nets Acquire Devin Harris and others for Jason Kidd and others (2/19/08): See what I did here? While trading your franchise player is difficult, Thorn and Co. made the best of a bad situation. With Kidd forcing his hand, and a deal with Dallas already falling through, Thorn stuck with it, and took advantage of Mark Cuban who was desperate to acquire Kidd. In his first full season in New Jersey, Devin Harris played like an all-star and he was rewarded as such that February. If he had maintained that high level of play through 2009-10, the trade would look even more lop-sided than it already is. Yes, Kidd is a great player and has fit in well with Dallas… but he was brought in to lead the team to an NBA Championship. Yet Dallas continues to sputter in the postseason while Harris gives the Nets a legitimate, if not oft-injured, building block.

3. The Nets Draft Brook Lopez (6/26/08): The draft has always been a dicey proposition for Rod Thorn and his braintrust. Some of the criticism is warranted (the 2005 draft of Antoine Wright and Mile Ilic), and some of it is a reach (getting Marcus Williams and Josh Boone late in the first round in 2006 seemed like good value). However, even Thorn couldn’t screw up the 2008 Draft when Brook Lopez, a legitimate big man with a polished post game, fell into the organization’s laps. You could probably thank Larry Brown for demanding a point guard, but regardless of the circumstances, Lopez may go down as one of the best value lottery picks in the organization’s history.

4. The Nets Acquire Vince Carter from Toronto (12/17/04): Vince Carter maybe eternally reviled in the city of Toronto as a result of this trade, but so be it. The Nets were stuck in a ditch at the beginning of the 2004-05 season, with Kidd being injured, Kenyon Martin being traded the summer before, and the team just look rudderless with guys like Ron Mercer and Eric Williams leading the charge. While I’m not the biggest VC fan in the world, his immediate impact in this season is without question. With Kidd still getting back into groove, Carter single-handedly carried the Nets into the playoffs over the media darling LeBron James-led Cavaliers. Sure the team didn’t make a dent against the Heat, but Carter brought offensive legitimacy back to an organization that had just gone through so much just to establish relevancy a few years before.

5. The Nets Get Three Picks for One (6/27/01): Before Jason Kidd was acquired, Thorn may have made an even more significant move for the organization, exchanging quality and quantity and ultimately getting the best player of the bunch to boot. Seton Hall’s Eddie Griffin oozed talent, and was an easy target for the Nets with the 7th pick, but he had a checkered past, and rather than ride that out, Thorn took an opportunity to get three players who turned out to be Richard Jefferson, Jason Collins and Brandon Armstrong, in exchange for Griffin. Tragically, Griffin would succumb to his demons. Jefferson and Collins would be key players for the Nets going forward. While it be unsettling to celebrate the tragic fall of one player, Thorn has to be acknowledged for reading the tea leaves somewhat on Griffin and making a player for the surer bets in Jefferson and Collins.

The Lows

1.  Del Harris-gate (2/3/10): It what was a season already spiraling out of control, Thorn came out looking clueless and out-of-control of the asylum when it was revealed that GM-turned head coach Kiki Vandeweghe and new assistant coach Del Harris had secretly plotted a transfer of power that would give Harris the head coaching spot with the team while returning Kiki to the GM’s chair. When the plan lost air, Harris abruptly resigned, leaving egg on the organization’s face. The whole situation was a slap in the face to Thorn, but if he was demonstrating actual power as team President, something like this also likely doesn’t transpire.

2. The Nets trade Kenyon Martin (7/15/04): What’s the price of your soul? In this case, it was three draft picks. With new ownership paying more attention to the bottom line and Kenyon Martin, an energetic if not enigmatic player, requesting big money, Thorn and Co. shipped out the heart and soul of the Nets team in a sign and trade with the Denver Nuggets. There are two schools of thought on this: On one hand, Martin would prove to be bad value for Denver, as he’s spent a considerable amount of time rehabbing knee injuries. However, the Nets were essentially waving a white flag to their roster, including, most notably, Jason Kidd, that they were not interested in keeping their Finals-bound core in-tact. The disposal of Martin wasn’t remedied until a few months later when Carter was acquired, but the Nets never got as close to the Finals again without an athletic big man for Kidd to consistently feed for thunderous dunks.

3. The Nets trade Richard Jefferson for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons (6/26/08): While the Knicks did it with more gusto, by trading Jefferson for a major question mark in Yi and a terrible, yet soon-to-be expiring contract in Simmons, the Nets began the gutting of their roster in an effort to woo some of the big free agents in the summer of 2010. With the “Decision” in the books, here’s the fallout: Yi has already been unloaded again in a salary dump, all of the big free agents signed elsewhere, and Jefferson opted out of his contract anyway. Meanwhile, the Nets spent two seasons forcing Yi into a role he wasn’t up to the task of fulfilling. He might have been a hit with the Chinese markets, but he was a bust in the states and the transaction represents a deal that Thorn now has absolutely nothing to show for.

4. The 2005 Draft (6/28/05): As earlier noted, the Nets had struck out on a few drafts during the Thorn era, though none seem to collectively stick in the craw like the 2005 Draft. With the 15th pick, the Nets took Antoine Wright, who was projected by some to be a Top 12 pick. However, Wright’s NBA career has wavered between middling to bust. And considering some of the players picked after him, ie Danny Granger and David Lee, who both went on to be all-stars, it makes the Wright selection that much worse. Of course, the Nets nearly one-upped themselves by taking Mile Ilic with the 43rd pick. The Nets appeared to cover Ilic, hoping he could be their next Eastern European surprise after Nenad Kristic. However, in his brief NBA stint, Ilic appeared to be … uncoordinated … to be nice. One of the biggest faults of the Thorn years was their inability to add to the “Big Three” core once Carter, Kidd and Jefferson were established. Whereas Thorn found nice role players through the draft and free agency earlier in his tenure, the organization struck out in the years following. The 2005 Draft epitomized this.

5. Thorn Resigns (6/25/10): The resignation of Thorn makes this list not because this team needs him to stay to survive, but because of the timing. The Nets had a new owner in Mikhail Prokhorov and a new head coach in Avery Johnson headed into the biggest free agency period in the league’s history, and in the 11th hour, Thorn announced his resignation. While Miami Thrice might have been inevitable even if this didn’t happen, it couldn’t have looked good for the organization’s sales pitch that they were mysteriously losing a vital member of their front office after setting so many other pieces in place. It’s unknown how Thorn’s absence is going to affect this team going forward. But with a rookie owner, a stable presence in the front office was only going to help.