Rod Thorn made a LOT of big trades for the Nets, most notably Stephon Marbury for Jason Kidd, Eddie Griffin for Richard Jefferson and Jason Collins and trinkets and baubles for Vince Carter. We chronicled ALL of them back when he left the Nets in 2010 and SB Nation did a great video on the Nets run a few years ago.
But, as the Hall of Famer told Ian Eagle in an interview that aired on “YES, We’re Here” Wednesday night, there’s one he regrets, the one he had hoped would bring the Nets a championship in 2003. In August 2002, he dealt Keith Van Horn and Todd MacCulloch to Philadelphia (and Billy King) for Dikembe Mutombo.
“I was probably influenced by the finals (2002 NBA Finals, in which the Nets were swept by the Los Angeles Lakers), that we did not have what it took at center, you know, when (Todd) MacCulloch started and Jason Collins came in the game for us, that that wasn’t going to beat the Lakers. And Mutombo had always played reasonably well against Shaq, you know. Shaq just couldn’t totally dominate him, and Keith was a good player. We had about three guys that averaged 15 (points) that year, he (Van Horn) was one of them.
“If I had to do it over again, I would not have made that trade because Dikembe didn’t fit with what we were doing. You know, we were a running, open court team. We weren’t going to wait on him and what he could for you defensively was negated by what was taken away from our team on the offensive end. Plus, he broke his wrist and was out for a big, big part of the season.”
And that was only part of it! Mutombo was 36 years old ... or 40. Nobody knew. And the year before, the NBA changed its defensive rules, allowing zone defenses and instituting defensive three-second violations. Both hurt Mutombo’s effectiveness. He led the NBA in defensive three second calls. Finally, the Nets didn’t play the Lakers in the 2003 Finals. They played the Spurs.
So, ultimately, the Nets bought him out for $30 million, even more than what they gave Deron Williams a decade later.
Still, the Nets got to two NBA Finals under Thorn and he won the Executive of the Year in 2002, the last major award any Net, New Jersey or Brooklyn, has won.
Thorn also spoke about what was his biggest move not involving players ... after a fashion ... firing Byron Scott and hiring his assistant Lawrence Frank in January 2004...
“Of all the coaches I had, Byron was the easiest guy to work with. I love Byron. You could talk to him, you know. He didn’t go off the deep end if you critiqued something, and (he was) just a stand-up guy, and we’d gone to the Finals twice. Sometimes his message wasn’t getting through to players in that next year. We were going along at about a .500 clip, I think were a couple games over .500, when we made the change and went to Lawrence, and we won 13 games in a row.”
Of course, Jason Kidd may have ... okay did... play a role in Scott’s departure.
Thorn spoke at length with Eagle about what was the biggest game of the 2001-02 season and he argued the seminal game in franchise history, the Nets double overtime win over the Pacers in Game 1 of the first round of the 2002 playoffs.
“I still remember, it was an incredible game, to begin with. Finally, we get up by three points, they (the Pacers) come down and miss and we’ve got less than three seconds, two and a half seconds, whatever it was, left in the game and Richard Jefferson gets fouled.
“So, I’m, you know, sitting up and I’m saying, ‘Whoa boy, he’ll make one, he’ll at least make one. And we’ve got it.’ So, he misses both, they get the rebound, they come down the court and Reggie Miller makes this shot that ties the score. Number one, I went to my knees and number two, I said ‘That shot wasn’t good’, it wasn’t good because, you know, I’m looking at the…score and this wasn’t the time that you could go over and take a look, that was before that (replay), and sure enough it (Miller’s shot) was late.
“But we go into overtime and we’re down four points with about a minute and a half left, Ron Mercer drives the baseline, I don’t know if you remember it, drives the baseline, scores, there’s a collision, referee called a charge. If he didn’t call a charge, we’re dead. He called a charge and then we came back down and won the game. But that game was an absolutely seminal moment, as you point out, for the franchise. It made us legitimate, we had to win that. You know, one against eight (seed), you got to win that.”
As for Kidd, Thorn recounted when he knew he had to get Kidd for the Nets. It was in the summer of 2000. Thorn was representing the NBA at the FIBA Americas tournament in Puerto Rico. Thorn had just been hired by New Jersey after years in the league office. Kidd then playing for the Suns and was Team USA’s starting point guard.
“It was amazing to me how all of those really good players gravitated towards Jason because Jason passed the ball, because Jason did all the little things. and everybody wanted to play with Jason. And I made up my mind that if I could ever get this guy, I would do everything I could to get him.
“When Jason came in, all of the things that we did not do well, you could see right from the start, we were going to be better defensively — we were an awful defensive team. We were going to be better rebounding. We were going to be better chemistry wise because Jason passed the ball. “
In that first year, Kidd led the Nets to 52 wins, then and now the Nets all time win record, and the NBA Finals,
Eagle also engaged a word association game with Thorn. For the most part, it was routine until Thorn was asked about Vince Carter.
“Heart. We never were the same after Kenyon left. We never replaced him while I was there. Tremendous heart, gave it all, run the court, was great playing with Jason. A little undersized for Tim Duncan, but did a great job for us, loved it.”
“One of my favorite players, ever. Great personality, really good player, wonderful guy on the team, all about the team and got better. Was a guy that worked at his craft, got to be a better shooter. Just a terrific player and a great player to have on the team.”
“Talent. Loved the game. Still playing; 20-something years he’s been in the league. Wasn’t the kind of guy that was a killer-type personality. You know, Vince could get 20 points just showing up. He didn’t want to have to be that guy to get you 25 to 30 every night, that wasn’t his personality, but he’s (a) great player and that was a good trade for us.”
Damning with faint praise? It was a criticism of VC, that he had the talent but not the drive. That of course was something Thorn knows a lot about. As anyone who watched “The Last Dance” knows, it was Thorn who as Bulls GM took Michael Jordan with the third pick of the 1984 NBA Draft.
“It’s a thrill to me, to tell you the truth. I mean if you’re gonna be known for something, drafting arguably the best player ever is not a bad thing to be known for.”
Not at all.