Jason Kidd with the New Jersey Nets in May 2007

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Lichtenstein: Nets Fans Find It Apropos That Kidd, Thorn Will Enter HOF Together

Steve Lichtenstein
September 06, 2018 - 3:12 pm
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There was never any doubt that Jason Kidd would enter the Basketball Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

Kidd ranks second in NBA history in both assists and steals, while his 8,725 career rebounds are the most by a guard.

How great was Kidd?  He made the New Jersey Nets relevant.

Immediately upon his arrival in the summer of 2001, Kidd transformed a laughingstock of a franchise into winners.  The Nets went to back-to-back NBA Finals in his first two seasons, including giving the mighty Spurs all they could handle before falling in six games in 2003.

I don’t remember where I was that day in late June when it was announced that Kidd, along with center Chris Dudley, was traded by Phoenix in exchange for a package featuring the Nets star point guard Stephon Marbury.  I do recall questioning the move, since Kidd at the time was nowhere near the shooter he became, an accused spousal abuser, and four years older than Marbury, a tantalizing talent.

It turns out the Nets general manager knew exactly what he was doing, and that deal, which won him the 2002 NBA Executive of the Year award, was one of many reasons why Rod Thorn will be inducted into the Hall alongside Kidd on Friday.

I first heard of Thorn, who played nine seasons in the NBA, when he was an assistant for the ABA New York Nets under head coach Kevin Loughery in 1973.  Loughery was quite the colorful coach—he’s the reason why the NBA shortened the “20-second injury timeout” to “20-second timeout.”  When he coached the Nets after the two leagues merged, Loughery would often point to a player he wanted to remove and the player would then collapse to the ground on cue, only to miraculously recover a few possessions later.  Loughery was a technical foul machine, and if you were one of the few watching Nets broadcasts on WOR, it seemed Thorn was constantly shown restraining him.

Thorn left the Nets to move up the ladder, eventually landing in the executive suite as Chicago's general manager.  That’s where he drafted Michael Jordan, one of the league’s greatest players ever, with the third overall pick in 1984.  Thorn doesn’t mind if you call him lucky.  He admitted he would have also chosen center Hakeem Olajuwon at number one like Houston did.  When the Blazers goofed by selecting fragile center Sam Bowie with the second pick, Thorn, as he remembered assistant coach Bill Blair telling him after Jordan’s first practice with the Bulls, “didn’t screw this draft up.”

Thorn was let go by incoming Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf in 1985 and then spent 15 years as the NBA’s Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, where his various duties included league discipline and taking part in the committee to select the original Dream Team for the 1992 Olympics.

Thorn made his way back to the Nets’ organization as general manager in time for the 2000-01 season.  Those Nets won 26 games.  One year later, Thorn brought in another otherworldly talent to build around.

MORE: Rod Thorn Joins Joe & Evan To Discuss Hall of Fame Career

“Our first meeting when Jason Kidd came on board, we were in training camp, and he stood up and said: ‘Listen, I don’t care about the past here,” former Nets guard Kerry Kittles said two years ago in an interview at Princeton University, where he was an assistant coach.  “We’re going to change this whole thing around. I’m going to pass the ball and everyone’s going to get involved in the offense. We’re all going to compete on defense. We’re all going to buy into the team first and not ourselves. We’re going to have a winning attitude, and we’re going to compete every night.’

Easier said than done, but Kidd did it.  The Nets shocked everyone by doubling their win total through the force of Kidd’s leadership and heart. 

Thorn surrounded Kidd with his type of team, one that would play fast.  In his first move, Thorn drafted Kenyon Martin with the first overall selection.  A year later, Thorn made a draft-day trade that brought in Richard Jefferson.  With Kittles already on board, Kidd had no shortage of swift wingmen.  “We were Golden State of the NBA for those two years,” Kittles said.  Martin and Jefferson, in particular, owe Kidd a huge debt of gratitude, for he made both fast break specialists inordinately wealthy after they each signed massive extension deals at their next opportunity.

Thorn was shrewd enough to trade Martin in 2004 before knee woes curtailed his effectiveness as a high-flying big man, and then used the savings to obtain superstar Vince Carter in a blockbuster deal.

Unfortunately, the Nets never made it past the second round again.  But don’t blame Kidd.  He continued to be that rare player who dominated games even when he didn’t score many points.  The exquisite passes, the toughness to corral loose balls, and, yes, the clutch shotmaking (he started working with Nets shooting coach Bob Thate to improve his efficiency—and he finished his career with 1,988 three-pointers, ninth-most in league history) --Kidd was the total package.  He even earned first or second team All-Defense honors every season in New Jersey until he was dealt to Dallas in February 2008, where, three years later, he would secure his only World Championship ring.  

Kidd’s exits, unfortunately, tended to leave a bitter taste—in this case, he reportedly went to Thorn to request a trade out of New Jersey. 

It was no different after Kidd’s retirement as a player.  Less than a month after Kidd hit his last shot for the Knicks in his 17th consecutive postseason appearance, Brooklyn general manager Billy King hired Kidd to coach a veteran-laden team despite him having absolutely no experience on the sidelines.  After one crazy 2013-14 campaign, Kidd reportedly engineered his extrication out of Brooklyn to go to Milwaukee, prompting Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov to quip, “Don’t let the door hit you where the good lord split you.”    

Kidd and Thorn are both spectators now—the Bucks axed Kidd in January while Thorn retired in 2015 after another stint as the league office as President of Basketball Operations.  They will be inextricably linked, even if most won't first connect each of them to the Nets.  I happen to find it fitting that they will be enshrined together on Friday.   

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.