By Michael Tillery
Ed Stefanski was hired yesterday as GM/President of the Philadelphia 76ers after a four-year stint as GM of the New Jersey Nets. Around the League, he’s known for evaluating talent and was instrumental in bringing Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson and Nenad Krstic to Jersey. As Director of Scouting for the Nets, Ed helped construct a Nets team that made consecutive Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003. He also served one year as vice president of player personnel. He’s a graduate of University of Pennsylvania where he was coached by NBA legend Chuck Daly. His freshman coach there was future Villanova coach, Rollie Massimino. Prior to joining the Nets in ’99, Stefanski was a 20 year color analyst for Big Five basketball and an ESPN color analyst for the Atlantic Ten. It’s safe to say Ed is home again.
Walking into the Wachovia Center executive offices, I was taken aback by the number of people attending the press conference announcing Stefanski’s hire. The town has grown tired of Billy King and is ready for change. King’s nine-year tenure is best known for the Finals appearance of 2001, the trading of Allen Iverson and not much else. The local media was well represented and there was an energy that pervaded the room. The hiring of Stefanski makes sense from a fundamental standpoint, but this is Philly, so Stefanski will be heavily scrutinized.
Ed Snider, chairman of Comcast-Spectacor was doing his best to make sure we the Philly media were comfortable with the hire. Since I was covering this nationally for SLAM this was an interesting segment of the press conference. Snider alluded to how Chicago’s blueprint paid off by plugging in players after acquiring Michael Jordan and even how this new installment of the Bulls are poised for success: “There’s no quick fix. I hope our fans understand that we have good young talent. They try hard and there’s some exciting players out there and that they’ll (Philly fans) back us. So far that hasn’t happened.”
The question was raised to Snider what incentive is there for the fans and why this move was made. Snider was honest in his response: “I really don’t know. Hopefully they’ll believe in what we’re doing. There’s no single reason that went into this hire. We thought we had to go in a different direction because the fans were losing hope. We may have been delusional at the end of last season. I thought we showed great promise and was hoping that carried over to this year—not that we were going to shock the world, but at least show progress.”Veteran Philadelphia Inquirer columnist and TNT reporter David Aldridge and Snider then engaged in an intriguing exchange that was so much more than that particular moment. Like most of us in the room, we weren’t satisfied with why this move was made now. Aldridge pressed on while our recorders moved closer to get it all. I wish you all could have seen the look in Snider’s eyes. He was hot but kept his composure. This is what makes DA one of the best.
DA: You say the players are OK with this move. I’m just trying to understand what went wrong that required the change.ES: We just felt we needed to go in a different direction.
DA: From where to where? What direction?
ES: From where we were to where we want to go.
DA: Did you have any doubt that Billy (King) could sign free agents or do the things you are going to do next summer?
ES: I like Billy but there came a time for change in our view. You might not agree. I know Billy is going to land on his feet because he’s a very capable guy. We are disappointed in our play this year, Ed became available, and we don’t have opportunities like this come our way often.
DA: Do you look at what Boston has been able to do this off season and if that’s a possibility for us? So you are ok with building through the Draft?
ES: What Boston did is unique and unusual. I’m not saying we are going to emulate any organization. We have good young players…in this league, it’s very difficult. We will look at any opportunities that present themselves in the draft. I’m OK with building through the draft to build a solid foundation. Anyway that we can. The problem in this league is that when you trade someone you have to take all that money back. It’s much difficult than most other leagues.
Another reporter reiterated if what Boston has done in acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen influenced this decision and Snider snapped to answer: “We don’t look at that stuff. We just have to do what we have to do to improve our position and can’t worry what everyone else is doing.”
Snider should regret that answer every time Boston plays Philly. Boston is progressively decades away from the Sixers and it’s going to be a long time before the Sixers have the bullets in the gun to consistently compete with a juggernaut Celtics squad.
This is a team in the most infantile stages of a true rebuilding process. I asked Peter Luukko, President and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, what went into the hiring process of Stefanski and he offered: “We had talked about possibly making a change. I gave Rod Thorn a call asking about Ed—who I’ve known for almost 20 years. Rod Thorn as much as anyone, didn’t want to lose Ed, but we knew this would be a dream job for Ed as the president of the Philadelphia 76ers. We were granted permission by the Nets. Both Ed Snider and I were away. We met over the weekend talked about things and made our decision. It happened rather quickly.”
I also asked Peter if this is a move to bring back a measure of consistency for a franchise that has suffered recently and if the Sixers are going to be aggressive in next year’s draft: “I think it’s a move to move forward in terms of continuing to build the team and compete for a championship. We brought in Ed to oversee the whole process. Of course next year’s draft is important. It’s also imperative we make sure to correctly assess our advantages and disadvantages within the salary cap. It’s important to make the correct moves in the draft, but our main priority is to win.”
For his part, Stefanski was straight up bubbly. This is his dream job and it showed. He was working the room like a true president—almost gleefully greeting and shaking hands with everyone. He was as happy as he was humble—unusual for someone entering such a pressurized position. I wanted Ed to enjoy the moment and get the administrative answers from Snider and Luukko. Stefanski is Philly bred and appears ready for daunting challenge of making this franchise relevant again. This town needs an infusion of energy because fan morale has been as low as at any point since Charles Barkley was traded.
Stefanski walked up and grabbed my hand like he knew me for life. I turned around and looked left and right even though he shook my hand vigorously. It was impressive how personable he was. “Energy won’t be a problem with me,” Ed exclaimed. “I’m a very positive guy. Like I tell people, if you made a mistake in the past, it stays in the past. We are going forward and I’m so happy to be in a position to help this franchise.”
If Ed’s enthusiasm translates to wins, his effort will help him become a beloved fixture in a town desperately searching for a reason to smile. The way this season has gone, that’s all Philly can hope for.