Sixers president Rod Thorn spent Monday the same way he has spent many days over the last four decades: sitting behind a desk, working the phones, poring over lists of players, trying to come up with a better way to build a winner.
He didn't have to be there. In fact, Thorn didn't have to be anywhere, save for perhaps a beach on the Jersey shore. Two months ago, the 69-year-old Thorn stepped down as the Nets' president just weeks after putting the final touches on the team's deconstruction. The fire sale in New Jersey resulted in an ugly 12-win season but set the team up with two cornerstone players (Devin Harris, Brook Lopez), a No. 3 draft pick (Derrick Favors) and more than $30 million in cap space.
Positioning New Jersey for a potentially rapid rebuilding process was another feather in Thorn's cap. An All-America at West Virginia in the early '60s, Thorn has a résumé that includes a stint as general manager of the Bulls (where he was involved in the decision to draft Michael Jordan in '84), and five years as the NBA's executive vice president, where he served as the league's head disciplinarian. In 2000, Thorn took over a 31-win Nets team that hadn't won a playoff series since 1984. After two years at the helm, Thorn guided them to the first of two straight NBA Finals.
Thorn didn't need another job. But he wanted one.
"You know, I still enjoy the challenge of trying to build a team," Thorn said in a telephone interview. "If you look at some of the guys my age who just retire, a majority look back a year or so down the road and are sorry they did it. I still wanted to be a part of this."
Philadelphia, with its young core and proximity to New Jersey, presented an ideal fit. Thorn did have a few reservations, most notably the fact that his presence in Philadelphia would usurp the authority of general manager Ed Stefanski, a longtime friend and colleague with the Nets.
"I had some trepidations, honestly, to begin with," Thorn said. "We worked together for seven years in New Jersey. I wanted to make sure that he was still going to be here. I value his knowledge and his friendship."
Thorn already has a strong vision for what kind of team he would like the Sixers to be. Part of that vision includes Carmelo Anthony. League sources told SI.com that the Sixers have maintained a running dialogue with the Nuggets about Denver's disgruntled star. While Philadelphia's package is appealing to Denver -- Andre Iguodala, who is coming off a solid showing at the FIBA World Championship in Turkey, would be the centerpiece -- it is still unclear whether Anthony would be willing to sign an extension with Philadelphia.
With or without Anthony, Thorn is optimistic about his team's prospects this season. He talks about how the offense will be inverted, with a group of skilled low-post guards (Evan Turner, Iguodala, Jrue Holiday) complemented by solid-shooting big men (Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes, Elton Brand). With that in mind, Thorn went out last week and acquired two frontcourt players who can shoot in veteran Darius Songaila and rookie Craig Brackins.
"Our success depends on how our bigs play," Thorn said.
The success or struggles of Brand, in particular, will be a major factor in the Sixers' season. Brand's struggles since signing with Philadelphia in 2008 have been well chronicled, bottoming out with a career-low 13.1 points (in 76 games) last season. Thorn says Brand is in excellent shape after playing last season "a little heavy." And after the power forward looked lost in Eddie Jordan's Princeton offense, Thorn hopes Brand will benefit from the structure of Doug Collins' more traditional sets.
"Last year, hopefully, was an aberration," Thorn said. "It didn't work last year. He was playing an offensive set that didn't fit him as much as it would fit others. "Anyone's confidence would be hurt by not being a part of as many game plans. He has done everything he can to prove to everybody that he is still a top-flight player. And he's a prideful guy. I think it was hurtful to him that people think he doesn't have as much as he once did."
At times during last season's 27-win nightmare, it felt like the Sixers needed an overhaul. Thorn, however, feels the team just needs to retool rather than rebuild.
"We need to acquire assets as we go along," Thorn said. "We have some pieces, we do have some athletes. An attitude adjustment from last year certainly would be part of it. But our staff has been here for weeks, talking, watching, observing. Our team is in a very good place right now. They want to turn around what transpired last year. Our season last year was not what this team really is. You will see."