As you surmise I based my comments on what I looked at a few days ago. I thing the "root and node" mode with child/descendent counts is ..... exactly what I had in mind. It would be a worthy replacement to "N replies" on the Front Page.
The threading is good and bad. Sure it shows you the activity at a glance but....it takes up so much screen real estate. There is also a data transfer increase of course. Ideally the tree would be best implemented with DHTML. An all or nothing server refresh toggle would be a practical compromise.