GM Rod Thorn recalls 10 years with Nets, career
AP Sports Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) – Rod Thorn would have changed his mind and remained as the Nets’ president and general manager if LeBron James had decided to play in New Jersey.
“Just to watch,” Thorn said.
In a 90-minute conversation with beat writers on his final day on the job, Thorn reminisced about his decade with the Nets and also recalled fond memories from his nearly half-century association with the NBA.
Most of the time, the 69-year-old laughed, telling one funny story after another.
Thorn was also serious. He admits it was time to leave the Nets, who he believes have a bright future under new owner Mikhail Prokhorov despite winning just 12 games last season.
However, it’s obvious he does not want to retire and he is hoping someone will call with an offer for a new NBA journey.
For now, his only plans are to take a walk with his wife, Peggy, on Saturday and maybe a swim after that.
“It’s been a heck of a tour here, over these last 10 years,” Thorn said Friday. “I don’t have much to say about the last two years. The first part of it, even the first year was a lot of fun. It’s always hard to leave someplace, particularly someplace where you put some much into. They team is in very capable hands and the Nets have some good times ahead of them.”
Thorn spent most of the past month making sure the pieces were in place for his departure. He hired Avery Johnson as the coach and named Billy King this week as the general manager, a position that will incorporate both of Thorn’s roles.
For the first time in decades, he is uncertain about his future.
“I have had some calls that have been interesting,” Thorn said. “I want to see what kind of options I have, whether it’s to stay in this or do something in something else. Right now, I have some and we’ll see if other come along.”
Thorn burst out laughing when someone reminded him he now has time for medical school, which is what his recently deceased mother always wanted him to do.
“She would tell me that every time I would see her,” said Thorn, who spent 14 years as a league executive before joining the Nets and leading them to two NBA finals. “‘Why didn’t you do that? You could have made me and your father proud.’ Oh my goodness, even in her last year we would have that conversation.”
If Thorn does work, it will be in basketball as an executive, consultant or in broadcast.
“A lot of people are competitive and I am among the top 25 percent who are competitive,” he said. “It’s been a big part of my life, competition. That I will miss, no doubt about that. That will be the tough one.”
Thorn has thought about leaving the Nets for the past 2 1/2 years and his decision was just a gut reaction.
“My feeling was it was just time,” Thorn said.
When asked if he would have stayed had the Nets won the lottery and were able to draft Kentucky point guard John Wall, Thorn simply said “Probably not.”
His answer was quick when asked if he would have stayed had the Nets gotten James to sign as a free agent.
“Probably,” he said with a big smile.
There are moments in his decade with the Nets that Thorn will never forget, such as the fifth game of an opening-round playoff series against Indiana in which Reggie Miller hit a 3-point buzzer beat to force overtime before New Jersey won.
The one that caused him the most grief was a Dec. 28, 2000, loss to the Boston Celtics in his first year.
The Nets had a 111-109 lead with 2 seconds to play and had to inbound the ball at halfcourt. Boston had no timeouts. Instead of throwing the ball into the frontcourt, Lucious Harris threw it toward his own basket. Milt Palacio stole the ball and hit a game-winning, 30-footer at the buzzer.
“I would never get my coat on or get my bag until the game was over,” Thorn said. “I had my coat on, my little bag on my shoulder because I said they have no timeouts and all he has to do is throw the ball into the frontcourt. Oh my goodness, I had a meltdown after that game, I had a major meltdown.”
Thorn recalled walking into the locker room and screaming at everyone, eventually going face-to-face with assistant coach Eddie Jordan.
“I apologized to 10 people the next day for acting like a fool,” Thorn said.
Of all the players he has coached or signed, Thorn has special spots for Jason Kidd, Julius Erving, Michael Jordan and Vince Carter.
Thorn made the deal that brought Kidd to New Jersey and made the Nets a winner.
“When he came he just totally changed the culture of the team by himself and made everybody believe they could do something,” Thorn said.
New Jersey was swept in the 2002 finals by the Lakers, a series that Shaquille O’Neal dominated. The loss to the Spurs in six games the next year hurt more, because the Nets were competitive. They lost Game 5 in a contest that could have gone either way and they led in Game 6 until the very end.
Thorn said Kidd could shut down any player as well as hit clutch shots on nights where nothing went in for him. His only regret was the night when an unhappy Kidd refused to play in 2007 because of a migraine. Kidd eventually was traded to Dallas months later. It took Thorn a long time to get over that.
For the most part, Thorn recalled funny stories.
Like the night he was sitting next to Anita Scott, coach Byron Scott’s wife. The Nets were leading by three points late in a game against the Clippers.
Anita Scott asked him what to expect. Thorn looked out on the court and saw Scott had left center Dikembe Mutombo on the floor, so he turned to her and said: “If your husband leaves Mutombo on the floor, they are going to hit a 3-pointer.”
That’s exactly what happened and the Nets lost.
A couple of nights later, Thorn gave some owners’ tickets to three of Scott’s friends. The Nets took a five-point lead in the final 30 seconds and one of the friends congratulated him. Thorn quickly told him the game wasn’t over.
Of course, the opponent scored six straight points and an angry Thorn told the friend that’s why you never say something like that.
“No one in my family is ever going to sit with you again,” Scott later told Thorn.
Thorn also laughed about his very short head coaching days with the Spirits of St. Louis and his relationship with Marvin Barnes.
Barnes had his own set of rules and Thorn frequently fined him, saying the figure reached about $30,000. In an effort to change their relationship, Thorn waited for Barnes to have a good game and the two spoke for nearly two hours about the need for Barnes to be a leader on the team.
The next morning, Barnes missed the team plane.