Deciphering Rod Thorn, particularly in the days before trade deadline, is never easy, but the Nets president of basketball operations spoke for 45 minutes before the Spurs game and left plenty of material to puzzle over. Tampering rules and good poker playing skills kept him from talking about specifics, but he dropped a lot of hints about what he calls his "fun time". Starting "four or five days ago" and continuing through the Feb. 19 trade deadline, things will be very intense. he predicted.
Here’s some headlines…with a limited attempt at analysis:
--The Nets do not anticipate trading Vince Carter at the deadline. In answering a season ticket holder's question about whether he might trade Carter, Thorn offered some platitudes about how he never tells a player he won’t be traded, how players like Carter always garner interest. Thorn then slipped in the line "but I don’t anticipate it". That is as clear a comment as he has made about Carter’s availability…or lack of same. He wouldn't discuss who has called about the team captain.
--Thorn did little to encourage the speculation that the Nets are interested in acquiring Amar’e Stoudemire from the Suns. He noted you don’t see "stars like Stoudemire become available…for whatever reason" and added that there is no better offensive player than Stoudemire. "He can score on anybody." He then added a few caveats, suggesting that he "doesn’t defend or rebound as well as you’d hope" and that some people question whether he is "a better center than a power forward". The Nets have a center, who Thorn praised extensively. Hint, hint.
--He has been surprised at some of the players being offered because of the "added element of the economy". There are players available he said that normally wouldn't be available, players with big contracts or long contracts. He didn’t name anyone.
--Brook Lopez has been the subject of a great deal of interest. "Last three or four weeks, we’ve been getting a lot of calls about Brook Lopez," said Thorn who then chuckled. He mentioned the interest with a smile, as a way of emphasizing how valuable Lopez has become, how far he has come in the last couple of months…NOT because he was entertaining the offers.
--He said it’s hard to tell sometimes whether a deal is close or not. "You’ll talk to somebody four or five times" about a deal and "think you’re close". Then, he said you realize that the other side doesn’t think you’re close at all. He noted that the Jason Kidd/Devin Harris deal was pronounced dead on the day of the All-Star Game, then completed the night of the All-Star Game.
--In an "ideal world", the Nets would have another point guard, agreeing with a fan that the team is taking a gamble at the point should Harris go down for an extended period of time. He also said at another point that if Harris "can remain healthy", he would be solid player for the next ten years.
--This year’s draft is so top heavy--that is, weak outside the top picks--he would consider dealing the Nets’ first round pick if he knew it would be in the #10 to #18 range. As for the other picks in the Nets’ stockpile—the 2010 Mavs pick and the 2011 Warriors pick—"they’re all chips in the game" and he would consider dealing them if the right deal came along. He added that the Nets are always looking to move up in the draft, but "lottery teams do not make deal til they know where they are picking in the lottery."
--He disagreed that the Nets might have a disadvantage in free agency if they were still in the IZOD Center by 2010. He said he believed strongly that free agents are attracted more by the prospect of winning than by money…"they can get the money anywhere". It’s his goal to build a "nucleus" that a free agent will think is solid and one he can see himself fitting into. That philosphy played into his decision-making on Richard Jefferson last June. He said that the Nets had two players with large contracts and that meant they’d be "capped forever," prohibiting them from being players in the 2010 free agency. He reiterated his mantra on Yi Jianlian, saying he believed he could be a "good player". "He’s seven feet tall every day of the year."
--He once again defended Lawrence Frank against a critic's comments, saying the coach "has done a good job". He cited the progress the team has made, doing much better than pundits' predictions, and the progress young players have made in particular. He again (as he had at another town hall last week) said that Frank is always well prepared, the players want to play for him and again, "the young players are getting better". Moreover, he said you always have to look at what else is out there, adding that he had made mistakes in the past firing coaches "and I think that I have fired eight of them" (including Jerry Sloan while Bulls GM in the 1980’s). At another point, Thorn noted that the Spurs, with their stability on the court and on the bench, is a "model franchise".
--On the subject of young players, he said Lopez is getting better practically every game, that Ryan Anderson has played well filling in. He deflected questions about whether Anderson should start when Yi returns, but also said Yi had been playing very well before he went down, and "needs to play and needs to get stronger". A hint he’d like to see Yi start on his return? He did say that it was going to take a while for Yi to get back into basketball shape.
--On Josh Boone and Brook Lopez playing together, Thorn said they play together in practice and that he expected to see them play together in a game at some point. But he noted that while Lopez can play up high, Boone cannot. He surprised some in the audience by making positive comments about Sean Williams, saying his focus and game have gotten better since his return from the D-League. If that continues, he suggested Williams might make it back into the rotation, but if his concentration lagged, he would not.
--Thorn also reserved some high praise for Trenton Hassell who he called "our best individual defender", saying he can guard "2’s 3’s and even some 4’s." And while he may not have Bobby Simmons’ range on the three, he has a good mid-range game and "gives us a defensive presence to start the game."