A Thorn on Their Side
Once upon time, the Nets wasted draft picks on stiffs like Yinka Dare. Players with modest talent such as Chris Morris had the gall to write “trade me” on their sneakers. Players with more talent but not nearly as much as they thought, like Stephon Marbury, wrote “All Alone” on their ankle tape. And throughout all this, fans and New York media alike responded with Derrick Coleman-like enthusiasm: whoop-de-damn doo.
Then after the 1999-00 season, Rod Thorn took over a Nets team that desperately needed someone with his professionalism and player evaluation skills. Rod Thorn’s first major move was to select Kenyon Martin as the number one pick in the draft. While Martin suffered through an injury-plagued first season, by his second season he was a major defensive presence and a huge part of their running offense.
In 1984, Rod Thorn made what was clearly his best draft pick while GM of the Bulls, selecting Michael Jordan. However, in 2001, after having one full season to evaluate the Nets’ needs, Rod Thorn had what would have to be considered the best off-season of his career. The Nets drafted Eddie Griffin and then turned around and dealt him for three picks which they turned into Richard Jefferson, Jason Collins, and Brandon Armstrong.
Richard Jefferson turned into one of the Nets’ brightest stars. A great athlete who plays outstanding defense, Jefferson is also one of the league’s most efficient scorers, getting 19.5 points on fewer than 13 shots a night. Jason Collins doesn’t wow you if you look at the stat sheet, but he does so many little things when he is on the court, he is well respected by his teammates and considered a winner throughout the league. Brandon Armstrong, a reported sharp-shooter who can’t shoot, offered less of an impact.
But it was Thorn’s trade that off-season that really turned things around. Thorn traded talented but selfish potential superstar Stephon Marbury for an older Jason Kidd. Kidd instantly energized the franchise, guaranteeing a winning record the year he joined the franchise. Kenyon Martin, Kerry Kittles, and Keith Van Horn immediately improved their game and Jefferson and Collins’ NBA initiation couldn’t have gone smoother with Jason Kidd leading the charge. The reenergized franchise made it to the NBA Finals in both 2002 and 2003, ultimately losing to more talented Western Conference foes (Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs).
Thorn made a couple of errors along the way in his quest to find a bona fide center. He traded Keith Van Horn for a miscast Dikeme Mutombo, who never fit in with the Nets running style, and then signed Alonzo Mourning to a terrible 4-year, 20-million-dollar contract only to see him miss most of the season due to his kidney ailment. However, the Nets look like they have finally found their center in Nenad Krstic whom they drafted in 2002 and stashed in Europe for a couple of years to develop his game. Krstic has become an offensive force for the current Nets, averaging 13.5 points per game on a better than 50% FG percentage.
Thorn also saved the Nets’ organization when they were in danger of sliding back into the abyss. Faced with demands from ownership to cut costs, Thorn shipped off Kenyon Martin, Kerry Kittles, and Lucious Harris. Fans were outraged, but Denver is now stuck with Martin’s bloated contract, and Kerry Kittles is semi-retired after playing only 11 games last year. Thorn made the correct choice in Richard Jefferson over Kenyon Martin, and then made another great move by stealing Vince Carter from Toronto for the incredible bargain price of Eric Williams, Aaron Williams, Alonzo Mourning (who refused to suit up for Toronto), and a couple of harmless draft picks.
The Nets start their series against the Miami Heat equipped with three superstars acquired by Thorn and a budding fourth in Krstic, also drafted by Thorn. While you could quibble with his bench choices that backfired this year (Mark Jackson and Jeff McInnis), the Nets are surely thrilled to have this Thorn on their side.