Bob Cooney: Thorn sees Sixers' struggles, envisions improvement

Sixers president Rod Thorn is looking beyond team's growing pains.
Sixers president Rod Thorn is looking beyond team's growing pains.
Posted: December 03, 2010

A LITTLE MORE than a month before the 76ers embarked for training camp with a new coach and memories from a dismal 2009-10 season that produced 27 wins and 55 losses, Rod Thorn was brought in to be the team's president.

Thorn had spent the previous 10 seasons with the New Jersey Nets, but that relationship ran its course. While there in the same role, he oversaw a team that reached two NBA Finals.

His hiring here in mid-August, along with keeping general manager Ed Stefanski, whom Thorn worked with in New Jersey during those Finals runs, was a sure sign by chairman Ed Snider that the time had come for this organization to warrant interest again. Thorn came in with not much knowledge of the team or its personality. He has had 3 1/2 months to evaluate, and says he likes what he's seen lately.

"We obviously started poorly, and I think it was because we couldn't keep teams from getting to the rim," he said. "With the exception of a few games, we've been in games late, but don't win, because we have a tough time keeping them away from the rim. Lately, we've played much better defensively. Our center play has been much better, including all of them [Spencer Hawes, Marreese Speights and Tony Battie]. Overall, we've played better, I've seen improvement. As of now, we are close to the worst record in the East, but are only 2 1/2 games out of a playoff spot, so there are a lot of teams that are close to where we are."

Which brings up the obvious question: Is making the playoffs as a low seed a goal or should this team look to build for the future?

"It's almost a Catch-22," Thorn said. "You want to create as good a winning atmosphere as you can. You want to win every game you can; on the other hand, you want to develop players. That's the Catch-22. But if you look at the distribution of minutes, virtually everybody has had a chance to play some significant minutes, with a couple exceptions. Our bench has been one of the best parts of the season. Thad Young has really picked his game up, not just scoring, but defensively. We've had different lineups during the year, sometimes because of injuries, sometimes just trying to get a group out there to start the game that can do the job on both ends of the court.

"You almost have to have a shooter with the first group, a wing player, that the other team respects and will have to come out and guard. That's a problem that [coach Doug Collins] has to deal with."

Evan Turner was thought to be that player when he was taken with the second overall pick in the June draft, before Thorn arrived. Turner doesn't appear to be that player now, but Thorn said he could develop into it.

"There's two or three layers here when it comes to Evan Turner," Thorn said. "The first layer is, if you look at the history of Evan Turner, he struggled at the high school and collegiate levels initially and then came on strong. Second, Evan has been a player who had the ball all the time. Now he's with us, and 'two' guards in this league are catch-and-shoot guys. They're on the wing, finishing breaks. That's not his primary skill set. He is trying to learn to play without the ball. When he's had the ball some, then he's played better, because he's more comfortable that way.

"At one point this season, he was the leading defensive rebounder among guards in the league. In the last four or five games, he hasn't rebounded well. He's learning a new position. We have other guys who are good with the ball, and you have to carve out a niche for yourself. I think the bottom line is, he has good things about him, from my perspective. I don't see him as a disappointment at this time. I think he's going to be a good player who will help you win games. He's struggled lately, and maybe Doug will make a move and bring him off the bench, then he can maybe come in and handle the ball a little more. He's a tough kid. He works hard, and he'll do everything he can to get a good enough skill set to do well in this league."

Perhaps, but what do Thorn and the rest of the staff need to do to advance to mediocrity and then climb above that?

"Having been in this business for 40 years, I know you are constantly looking to upgrade your team," he said. "Even if you're the champion or a top-five team in the league. Those teams are constantly looking to upgrade talent, and when you're like us toward the other end, you certainly are. But when you have good players, you don't give good players away unless it makes sense for your team, whether short- or long-term. Like in New Jersey, we made a decision about 2 1/2 years ago to get under the cap and have a lot of money to spend with the huge free-agent [group] coming around with LeBron [James] and all. That's how some teams go. Others will do it through free agency, others through drafts. There's not one way to do it.

"We are always ready if a deal comes by that makes sense. I never tell any player that I wouldn't trade them, because the fact is you would trade anyone for the good of the team. We are constantly looking. The reality in this league is certain players are difficult to trade because of contracts - due to their size or length. It's easy to say, 'Trade X player for some big guy who might help you.' But when you have good big guys, you don't just give them away. I've made a bunch of trades, anybody can be traded.

"Some would say I'm not patient at all, because I made a bunch of trades. In the course of time, I found that prudence is the better part of valor, you don't just make trades to make trades. We've got some pretty good players here. As our bigs have played better, we hope to continue to get better. I know a lot of people don't want to hear that, we're looking. Most trades are made between Dec. 15 and the trading deadline. Right now, everyone is trying to figure out what they have. We also have the possibility of a lockout, so you have to be more hesitant than normal, because you don't know what the rule is going to be. What if there is a hard cap? Nine out of 10 GMs would say they are a little leery of what they're going to do right now."

DRIBBLES

UPCOMING GAMES:

Tonight at Atlanta Hawks, 7:30

Comcast SportsNet/WIP (610-AM)

The skinny: Al Horford, Joe Johnson and reserve Jamal Crawford scored 61 of Atlanta's 104 points in a win in October at the Wells Fargo Center. But Johnson just had elbow surgery and is out 4-to-6 weeks.

Tomorrow vs. Charlotte Bobcats, 7:30

Comcast SportsNet/WIP (610-AM)

The skinny: It's always fun when Larry Brown comes back to town, right? Maybe Michael Jordan will make the trip, too.

Tuesday vs. Cleveland Cavaliers, 7 o'clock

Comcast SportsNet/WIP (610-AM)

The skinny: Sixers lost in Cleveland in mid-November in a lackluster effort. Anderson Varejao has made 14 of 15 shots against the Sixers this season.

Thursday vs. Boston Celtics, 8 o'clock

TNT/WPHT (1210-AM)

The skinny: Remember the days when these games were circled on your calendar? Bird, McHale, Parish and Ainge are now Garnett, Pierce, Allen and Rondo.

BY THE NUMBERS:

3: That's how many times the Sixers have held opponents under 80 points so far this season after doing it only twice all of last season.

0-11: That's the Sixers' record this season when opponents get a double-digit lead in a game. When the Sixers get a lead of 10 points or more, their record is 4-3.

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