Thorn: Sixers might draft a big man, might not


Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Posted: 4:20 p.m.By Brian KotloffFor

With the NBA draft countdown ticking toward 48 hours, Sixers president of basketball operations Rod Thorn did nothing to calm the sea of speculation about what will play out come Thursday night.

If anything, he stirred the waters even more.

After the first maybe three or four picks, its pretty wide open as to where people are going to go, Thorn said after the teams final pre-draft workout Tuesday. So you have to be prepared for a lot of different scenarios and thats what were trying to do.

Two more big men strolled through the PCOM doors for the Sixers eighth workout, with Thorn, general manager Ed Stefanski and assistant coaches in attendance. All told, the staff brought in 23 bigs and 13 perimeter players over the past 17 days.

So most signs point to a post man landing in Philly later this week, right? Not so fast. The best laid plans may end up in the Prudential Center trash on Thursday.

I think theres a good chance that we will draft a big, Thorn said, but we also may not.

Thorn knows the wild nature of draft night better than anybody. Hes witnessed it from all sidesas a player selected second by the Baltimore Bullets (1963), as an assistant coach for the Nets (1976), as the general manager of the Chicago Bulls (1978-85), as the NBAs Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations (1986-2000) and most recently as the Nets president (2000-2010).

During his first draft in Philadelphia, Thorn has used his vast experience and connections to survey the field of teams across the league, attempting to solve the puzzle that will come together in Newark, N.J. Talking to a variety sources has given the Sixers brass some indication of who will be available at 16, but sometimes the draft can be about as predictable as Russian roulette.

Guys that you think might go in the top 5-8, they may be available at 16, Thorn said. Thats how close the skill level is on some of these players. Its in the eye of the beholder.

So if one of the top-tier international big men falls in their lap in the middle of the first round, the Sixers could try to strike gold on a foreign investment. The first shakeup has already occurred, with word spreading that Lithuanian seven-footer Jonas Valanciunas may not agree to a buyout with his European team for next season. Valanciunas has long been projected as a top-five pick, so his uncertain situation is having a trickle-down effect on the top 10, Thorn said.

Or the Sixers could call the name of a player who they havent even met in the weeks leading up to the draft. The lack of standout talent has caused first-round prospects to visit lottery teams rather than mid-first round teams in hopes of achieving lottery-pick status. Players who spurned the Sixers like Morehead States Kenneth Faried or Congo native Bismack Biyombo may drop farther than their agents think.

In a perfect world, you would at least interview every player that youre thinking about taking, Thorn explained. The reality is that a lot of players agents feel that they are going to go higher than they will ultimately go.

Ive drafted a couple players who I never worked out, he added.

That strategy worked out for the Sixers two years ago, when a UCLA point guard named Jrue Holiday became available at No. 17 despite never visiting PCOM.

The rejected invitations and last-minute cancellations have led the team to bring in guys like Purdues 6-10 forward JaJuan Johnson and Frances seven-footer Guy-Marc Michel. The pair was in town Tuesday.

Johnson will likely land somewhere in between the No. 16 and 50 selections, meaning he probably wont be a Sixer barring a trade. Michel was simply showcasing himself in hopes of getting a training camp invite later this summer.

Both would have provided a big test for Faried, had the forward not canceled on the team for the second time.

For Johnson, his second-to-last workout offered another opportunity to boost his late first-round stock before Thursday.

I definitely think Ive helped my status. Ive competed against every big guy there was and I definitely held my own against everyone, said Johnson, a consensus 2011 first-team All-American during a senior season in which he posted 20.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.

Though a stretch at 16, the athletic, face-up forward could fill a dual role for an NBA team as a stretch-the-floor big man and a defensive presence.

And thats all the Sixers are looking for this year: a role player. Thorn and general manager Ed Stefanski are not looking for the next Michael JordanThorns 1984 selection while with the Bulls. Theyre looking for a fresh body who can at least play quality minutes off the bench.

We think in this draft, there arent a lot of players who might be real stars, but there are a lot of role, rotation players. Its deep in that, Thorn said.

We think that well have two to three guys that will get to us that will be a good player.

Thorns 30-plus years in the business assure him of that. Prepared for worst-case scenarios as well as best case scenarios, the seasoned veteran in the Sixers draft room will remain the voice of reason.

Youve got five minutes when your time comes, Thorn said, and youve got to be ready.
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