Thorn left the building Friday; he’s the former Nets president now. His legacy is secure after acquiring Jason Kidd and seeing the star-crossed franchise to two NBA Finals. Thorn’s legend would have been greater if he got LeBron James to choose the Nets over Miami.
Thorn wouldn’t have resigned if James picked the Nets. That wasn’t happening so Thorn and the Nets turn the page and start anew.
The Nets are now in the hands of Avery Johnson and Billy King - the two men that should lead them into Brooklyn. New owner Mikhail Prokhorov calls the shots, but he’s taking his cues now from Johnson as is King, the former president of the 76ers, who replaced Thorn..
Johnson became the Nets coach in June, but quickly endeared himself to Prokhorov, especially after Thorn let him know he wouldn’t return. The Nets are the coach’s team. There’s little question of that right now.
Johnson talked and met with King before Prokhorov or Thorn formally interviewed him. The coach needed to feel comfortable with his new general manager.
King will make the trade calls and try to use the remaining $14-plus million the Nets have under the cap and overall flexibility Thorn left him to build the kind of team Johnson wants.
The Nets failed to secure James and other big-named free agents, but acquired young, athletic, serviceable players, kept their future draft picks and maintained plenty of flexibility to make trades.
King needs to be active, be aggressive, but be smart.
“Be prudent with your cap space,” Thorn said he told Prokhorov before departing. “But be ready. If you can drop a real top-flight player on this particular group of guys now you have a chance to be good. Try to make sure you’re ready when that day comes.”
The Celtics did it for Kevin Garnett a few years ago, just as the Lakers did for Pau Gasol and going back further the Pistons did for Rasheed Wallace. All three moves resulted in those teams winning at least one NBA championship and playing in multiple Finals.
You can’t be sure a player like that will become available. But the Nets have to prepare for the possibility because this past free agency showed the money, power and appeal of Prokhorov and part-owner Jay-Z didn’t carry any weight.
Unless you have an established superstar player, Dwyane Wade for instance, it’s hard to recruit other stars. Making trades is the Nets' best option.
The Nets tried for stars, but ended up with small forward Travis Outlaw, backup point guard and two-time NBA champ Jordan Farmar, swingman/marksman Anthony Morrow and center Johan Petro.
They all 25 and younger, athletic and fill holes. They give the Nets upgrades from last year at certain positions where players were injured, out of shape, lacked fire, were disgruntled or weren’t good enough. Also, other than Outlaw’s five-year, $35 million deal, they all have manageable, short-term deals.
They can help the Nets, who should be far better than 12-70 next season. But they would be better signings if they came with a superstar or if the Nets had one, which they don’t.
Until they do, it’s up to Johnson to try and develop some of players into the kind of players others want as teammates or that other teams want.
He’ll try to get Devin Harris back to being an All-Star, make Brook Lopez an All-Star and dominant, cornerstone big man and put rookie Derrick Favors on his path to reach his potential. Johnson thinks Favors can be another Dwight Howard.
“I think with Billy and Avery’s leadership I see nothing but rosy skies ahead for the Nets,” Thorn said.
The Nets still have more work to do. They need a starting-caliber power forward and hope to get one without having to give up Favors.
They’re high on him and would like to keep him. But Favors is a chip they planned to use in free agency if they needed him to get one of the superstars. He also could be one that helps them get an established star who could become available this off-season or next season, such as Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony.
Those are the kinds of players you trade for who can change your franchise in a hurry – as Thorn did for Kidd and then again for Vince Carter.
“Players become available,” King said. “You want to make sure you have the flexibility because a lot of teams will finish this offseason and look at their roster, and [some] will say, ‘We’re not going to be good, we need to get rid of payroll, I don’t like where we are.’ You want the flexibility to do that.
“The Nets have the picks, the cap flexibility. So deals will come along and you have to be ready and prepared to do that.”
Thorn put the Nets in good position. Now the new management has to follow not only in Thorn’s footsteps but also his lead.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)