Was this a good move?
In an attempt to answer this larger question we have broken it down into its component parts:
Did Stefanski deserve the demotion?
Was Thorn the right hire?
And if not Thorn, who?
In last weeks installment we evaluated the Ed Stefanski era. Today we examine the Rod Thorn hiring.
A few weeks before the Sixers held their press conference announcing Rod Thorn would be taking over as team president, Paul Krugman wrote an interesting critique of Obama’s economic policy for the New York Times. Here was the thrust: Krugman was rankled that the administration hadn’t injected additional – and, in his estimation, needed- stimulus funds into the economy, but was especially rankled by their reason for not doing so. According to Krugman, they stood pat not because they thought additional stimulus was unnecessary – they thought it was very necessary – but because they thought it would be politically unpopular to add to the deficit. Krugman argued that this calculation was cynical, cowardly, and self-interested, but even more damning; it was stupid. What counts in electoral politics, what gets votes, he said, isn’t how people feel about an individual piece of economic legislation, but whether or not that legislation works. Everything else is noise. Find what works and do it, he implored the administration, the rest will follow. He was convinced though that his plea was falling on deaf ears*.
(*I couldn’t find the link to this piece, but given my meager understanding of economics, I’m pretty sure it’s beyond what I’m capable of imagining.)
This is a tidy analogy for the Sixers hiring of Rod Thorn. The buzzword after the announcement was “credibility,” as in, “Rod Thorn lends the organization some much needed credibility,” or “the hiring went a long way towards solving the Sixers’ credibility deficit.” From all indications, the buzz was and is accurate. The Sixers hired Rod Thorn because he brought credibility. Because it was popular.
The Sixers are a deeply flawed organization.
The twin objectives of this, or any, professional sports organization are to make money and win games –usually in that order. Fortunately, these objectives are not in conflict (Unless there is a broken revenue sharing system, ie major league baseball.). Teams that win games make money. They fill the stands, sell jerseys, TV rights, and ink endorsement deals. Teams that lose games don’t do these things. So it’s pretty simple; to be a successful organization the first and last order of business is winning games. This is the criteria by which the Rod Thorn era will be judged. The hiring will have been a good move if he brings in players and coaches who advance this cause and will have been a dud if he fails to do so. This might be news to the Sixers, but “credibility’ has no role in that calculus.
But while the reasoning behind the Thorn hiring was twaddle, that doesn’t necessarily mean the outcome will be. A broken clock is right twice a day. Maybe the Sixers lucked into the right guy*.
*Nothing like rooting for a team that requires blind luck to be successful.
Here’s a condensed look at Thorn’s career as an executive. It actually offers some reason for optimism.
Rod Thorn was hired to run the Nets in June of 2000. They were a bad team. He added Jason Kidd to this bad team and suddenly they weren’t so bad any more. He also traded for Richard Jefferson, Vince Carter, and Dikembe Mutumbo. He got these four for Keith Van Horn, a bunch of spare parts, and three guys who are no longer in the League — Alonzo Mourning (retired), Eddie Griffin (deceased), and Stephon Marbury (insane and playing in China). Despite this impressive maneuvering, those Nets peaked at pretty good. Then Thorn moved Kidd and they got bad again. Then they got worse. Somewhere in there he won Executive of the Year. Before that he was in the League offices. Before that he was in Chicago, where he drafted Michael Jordan*.
(*Time for an aside…As NBA legend / rumor has it, on the Eve of the 1984 draft, then Sixers owner Harold Katz called Chicago’s owner and offered him Dr. J for the number three pick, which the Sixers would have used to draft a promising young two-guard from the University of North Carolina by the name of Michael Jordan. The Chicago owner brooded over the offer, then presented it to Thorn, who turned it down, and used the pick to select Jordan himself. So the Sixers, THE SIXERS, almost got Michael Jordan. Rod Thorn could build the current Sixers into a dynasty and still not undo the damage he’s caused this franchise by turning down that offer in 1984. That said it showed good judgment on his part. )
So, in his pro column, he turned the Nets from a punch line into a two-time NBA finalist and perennial playoff team, clearly has a knack for quick fixes, drafted Michael Jordan, and did the best work of his career with Ed Stefanski* in his ear. As for the cons, he’s a near-septuagenarian whose last rebuilding effort resulted in a team that vied for the worst record in NBA history.
*Weird that while this was a demotion for Stefanski, it was, in an oblique way, a sort of doubling-down on his philosophy. Stefanski was Rod Thorn lite. They evidently liked the flavor enough to opt for the real thing.
This move probably makes the Sixers a little better in the short run. Thorn and Stefanksi will probably make better decisions than Stefanski could alone. But the problem with the Rod Thorn hiring isn’t really Rod Thorn: It’s that when the team decided it needed an upgrade in the front office, it didn’t try to identify the smartest, savviest, personnel guy in the League, and do whatever it took to bring him into the fold. Not the 76ers. They just hired Rod Thorn.
If you are comfortable with the Nets of the early-aughts as a best case scenario for this franchise, then the Sixers hit a home run here. We at Philadunkia don’t hate the Thorn hiring, we simply think they could have done better.
Most of all, we really wish they’d at least tried to.