John Smallwood: Lame duck Thorn shouldn't be directing Sixers' draft - or future

Posted: June 28, 2012

THIS WASN'T a good plan. Rod Thorn should not run the Sixers' draft on Thursday.

Since ownership already decided Thorn ultimately would be out as president of basketball operations, it already should have hired his successor — not wait possibly up to a year while conducting its search process.

Truthfully, the owners should have just put head coach Doug Collins in charge of all basketball-related decisions — as Pat Croce did when he hired Larry Brown as coach in 1997.

That's what will happen, so just drop the charade.

With Thorn headed to a "consulting" position and owner Joshua Harris promising to sign Collins to a new contract, the control of power was solidified behind the former Sixers player, who has made them relevant again in only two seasons as coach.

Whomever they ultimately hire as general manager won't be Collins' boss, but will be more like Billy King was to Brown or former Eagles general manager Tom Heckert was to Andy Reid.

That's why in the end, if the status quo holds, the Sixers won't be able to hire a veteran general manager with a strong history or a young executive flagged as an up-and-comer in the field. Their power structure is set up for a general manager who just wants a job, not someone who is really interested in having the control to shape a franchise.

Having Collins in charge lends credence to an ESPN report that the Sixers have interest in recently fired Atlanta Hawks general manager Rick Sund. Having had a previous working relationship with Collins in Detroit, Sund makes more sense for the Sixers than anything he did with the Hawks over the last four seasons.

But if the Sixers do indeed intend to hire someone who won't have to wait for a wink from Collins, they've screwed things up by doing this slow burn with Thorn.

The Sixers will have the 15th overall selection in the 2012 NBA draft, plus two second-round picks. This should be handled by the new personnel chief, not one who has one foot out of the door.

It is the first critical phase in improving a squad that pushed the Boston Celtics to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference semifinals before being eliminated.

The Sixers aren't fool's gold, but they aren't 24-karat, either. Significant decisions must be made if they are going to continue to advance in a conference that includes the newly crowned NBA champion Miami Heat.

I'd have no problem with Thorn running this if he were going to be around. As general manager of the Chicago Bulls, he did draft Michael Jordan, and he also turned the New Jersey Nets into a two-time NBA Finalist.

The man does know basketball.

Thorn is out, but the Sixers' dalliance has already cost whoever the new general manager is his first significant tool to shape the team he envisions.

As the NBA opens its season for trades and free agency, the Sixers will take away more tools from Thorn's successor.

This is all fine if, as I suspect, the reins of power lie with Collins. If not, they are severely handicapping a new general manager.

In December 2007, one of the numerous closed-door power struggles at Comcast-Spectacor led to King being removed as GM and Ed Stefanski being hired as president and GM. The problem was that management had already allowed King to implement his rebuilding plan for the Sixers by letting him direct the 2007 draft and make trades and free-agent signings.

Whether it would have changed things in the long run is a matter of debate, but there is no question Stefanski started out behind the eight ball, stuck with a coach and roster he had not selected.

Everything that happened after that was based on adjustments to what he had already been given. Perhaps Stefanski would have done some things differently had he had a draft and player acquisition season to work with from the beginning of his tenure.

After the disastrous 2009-10 season, under Eddie Jordan as coach, Stefanski clearly was on shaky ground. Things came to a head when Thorn was hired on Aug. 11, 2010, as president, leaving Stefanski as GM. But before he got demoted, Stefanski was able to hire Collins as coach and select Evan Turner with the second overall pick.

By the time Thorn took over, most of the major moves that would shape the 2010-11 team had been made by a guy with one foot out the door.

Thorn had no choice but to waste a season "evaluating" what the Sixers had and what Collins could do with it.

Now, the Sixers are set up to make the same mistake for a third time.

Again, this is assuming that Collins is not running things and that a new general manager should've already been hired and in position to make the decisions on Thursday and beyond.

The Sixers face a lot decisions this summer that will lay the foundation for the next few seasons.

As a lame duck, Thorn should not make those calls.

And unless Collins is already secretly the "grand basketball god of everything," he should not, either.

These crucial decisions should be made by the new team president/general manager, a guy the Sixers might not hire for up to another year. n 

Contact John Smallwood at smallwj@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/JohnSmallwood.

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