PHILADELPHIA – Rod Thorn and Ed Stefanski once teamed to build New Jersey into NBA championship contenders.
Reunited in Philly, the front office pair will try and resuscitate the 76ers.
Stefanski failed in three years to shape the Sixers into winners, so Thorn was brought in Thursday as team president, hopeful the tag-team style of management will lead them back into the playoffs and their first championship since 1983.
Stefanski will stay as general manager. Stefanski had held both roles since replacing Billy King in December 2007. King succeeded Thorn as New Jersey's GM last month.
"We did this before and I'm excited to see what we can do again," Thorn said.
Thorn was hired almost a month after he quit his job as New Jersey's president and general manager. At 69, Thorn could have retired after a career spanning nearly every position in the NBA. Instead, he signed a multi-year deal with the Sixers that includes a role as a consultant once he's finished in the front office.
"There's been a lot of speculation that I was retired," Thorn said. "Well, I wasn't retired. I retired from the Nets. I was never retired. I expected to be back in basketball."
Thorn's hiring was the latest splashy move from a franchise striving for relevance among Philadelphia's big four sports teams. They hired Doug Collins as coach, hit the jackpot in the draft lottery by winning the No. 2 pick and selecting Ohio State guard Evan Turner, and traded disgruntled center Samuel Dalembert.
Thorn has another rebuilding project ahead in Philadelphia. The Sixers went 27-55 last year and missed the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
He's here because many of Stefanski's big moves were busts. He fired coach Maurice Cheeks after giving him two contract extensions, and his pick of Eddie Jordan was a one-year disaster. Stefanski overpaid for free-agent Elton Brand and reserve guard Lou Williams, leaving them handcuffed this summer to make any moves with a superstar free-agent class.
Stefanski said after the season the Sixers took an "unacceptable" step backward in finishing 27-55 in Jordan's lone season.
"We don't want to take any more steps back," Thorn said. "We want to take steps forward."
Stefanski was surprised Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider and COO Peter Luukko approached Thorn about running the franchise. Stefanski put his ego aside for what's best for the team — and to keep at least one of his titles.
"My pity party lasted for about a half hour," Stefanski said. "Then I was fine after that."
Luukko said Thorn's sudden availability was the only reason the Sixers considered naming a new president.
Thorn and Stefanski worked together in New Jersey and helped lead the franchise to consecutive trips to the NBA finals in 2002-03. The Nets lost to the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, respectively.
"I think we were a hell of a team in New Jersey and the results showed it," Stefanski said. "There's no reason to say we're not going to do the same thing here."
Thorn had called the shots for the Nets since 2000 and hired Avery Johnson as coach before resigning. Thorn helped turn the Nets into a contender in 2001 when he engineered a trade to bring Jason Kidd to New Jersey.
Before joining the Nets, Thorn was the NBA's executive vice president of basketball operations from 1986-2000.
Thorn said it was painful to be forced to dismantle the Nets, and insisted the arrival of new owner Mikhail Prokhorov had no affect on his decision to leave. Thorn said he was offered a "very lucrative" deal to stay with the Nets.
"My feeling was, my time had run it course there," he said. "There are no nefarious reasons, no smoking guns. It was just a personal decision."
Collins, who caught a redeye flight from San Diego to attend the press conference, believed Thorn's arrival will help make them a winner.
"These two guys have had so much success together and I feel good about where we are," Collins said.
Marreese Speights, Thaddeus Young and Williams are part of the core of young players who have to improve for the Sixers to contend for a playoff spot. Andre Iguodala, who has never made an All-Star team as Philadelphia's best player, has earned raves this month for his play while trying out for Team USA.
If they all play to their potential, maybe the Sixers can win 40 games.
It's not nearly enough in the Eastern Conference to contend with Miami, Boston or Orlando this season.
But Thorn has arrived to attempt to ensure better days are ahead.