PHILADELPHIA -- Ed Stefanski is trading a difficult commute
for a much tougher road: trying to turn a fallen franchise into a
Stefanski was chosen president and general manager of the 76ers on
Tuesday, hours after Billy King was fired after 10 seasons in
Philadelphia. Stefanski left his job as GM of the New Jersey Nets
and made the daily commute from the Philadelphia suburb of Wayne to
northern New Jersey.
The move keeps Stefanski in the familiar Atlantic Division and
returns the Philly-area native to his roots with the daunting task
of making the dismal 76ers into winners.
"I feel more than ready to be the caretaker for the 76ers,"
For the second straight year, the Sixers (5-12) are off to a
After playing in the NBA Finals in 2001, Philadelphia has missed
the postseason three of the last four years and was in the
beginning stages of yet another rebuilding plan.
King jump-started the youth movement a year ago when he traded
former MVP Allen Iverson to Denver. He outlined to chairman Ed
Snider a three-year plan to turn the 76ers into a playoff team and
management seemed to back the former Duke standout.
King, who was in the final year of his contract, instead got 17
"We came to the conclusion that we have a good plan in place,
but that we needed a fresh approach in the leadership of the
franchise," Snider said.
That responsibility will fall on Stefanski, who grew up rooting
for Wilt Chamberlain and the 76ers. His passion for basketball
manifested itself when he played at the University of Pennsylvania
under Chuck Daly and later coached his high school alma mater,
Monsignor Bonner, to a Catholic League championship.
He admits to still being a fan of local teams.
"I die with every Philadelphia team," Stefanski said.
Imagine how the rest of the fans felt this season.
King made his share of questionable moves -- overpaying players
like Aaron McKie, Kenny Thomas and Samuel Dalembert; showing
impatience with the head coach; and failing to find a No. 2 to play
with Iverson. Regardless, the timing of the move is curious.
Snider had never publicly wavered in his support for King and
let him shape the immediate future of the franchise by making both
the Iverson trade and the three first-round draft picks in June.
Snider gave few solid reasons why King's time had run out.
"We decided it wasn't working, that's all," Snider said.
Philadelphia has been mired in mediocrity or near the bottom of
the East since a five-year playoff run under coach Larry Brown
ended in 2003.
"It's a tough day for Billy," said Brown, now a consultant.
King, who had been with the Sixers since 1997, declined comment
when reached on his cell phone.
Snider did say he hoped the Sixers would have built more off
their 30-29 finish last season during which Andre Iguodala and
Andre Miller emerge as part of a solid foundation. Instead, they
have collapsed under third-year coach Maurice Cheeks and the team's
88-79 loss to Atlanta on Monday was its seventh in 10 games.
"We may have been delusional at the end of the last season,"
The Sixers hope the surprising move sends a signal to a
dwindling fan base that the team is committed to winning. Few have
turned out this season, as the team's average attendance of 11,960
ranks 29th out of 30 teams.
"Hopefully they'll see we're making the right moves, they
believe in what we're doing and they'll support us," Snider said.
The team believes hiring Stefanski was the right move. He teamed
with Nets president Rod Thorn to reshape Philly's division rival
and is known as a sharp talent evaluator who helped bring the Nets
Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson.
"He's been a big part of our success here the last seven
years," Thorn said. "I'm sure he'll do a great job there."
Thorn said he assembled a list of candidates to replace
Stefanski but didn't expect to make a decision for a few days. New
Jersey granted permission this month for the Sixers to interview
Stefanski said he will evaluate the entire organization,
including Cheeks, before making any quick decisions. Cheeks is in
the final season of a three-year deal and said after practice he
was given no assurance that he would stick around the rest of the
"I thought Billy and the rest of the staff did a good job of
accumulating young guys," Cheeks said. "As time moves on, these
young guys will be pretty good."
Stefanski attended Tuesday's practice and met with some of the
"He's a straight shooter, real sharp," forward Kyle Korver
said. "That's what you want in a boss."
King tried to jolt the Sixers by changing coaches and through
blockbuster trades, but nothing worked.
He gave Jim O'Brien a multiyear deal to coach in 2004, then
fired him after a playoff appearance. A blockbuster trade that
brought Chris Webber to Philadelphia backfired, and the disgruntled
former All-Star was bought out of his contract last year.
The club haven't seen the desired results in their record as
Dalembert, Korver and Willie Green have not lived up to the hefty
contract extensions signed under King.
The Sixers failed to reach a contract extension with leading
scorer Iguodala before the season started.
"Probably if we were 16-0, maybe he'd still be here," Iguodala
King said in the preseason he wasn't concerned about his
"You could have a multiyear contract and that doesn't mean
anything in terms of job security," he said. "I just worry about
the job I have to do. I know what our goal was, what our plan was
to do and I think we're headed in that direction."
The Sixers hope Stefanski can point the foundering Sixers in the
right direction. He'll have help this summer when some big money
contracts come off the books, giving the team needed cap relief to
pursue free agents.
"I think with what we have in place here with the youth, I
think that's the way to go," Stefanski said. "You never say
never. You listen and you do have options. We will be proposing
trades and listening to every trade possible."