Where does Ed begin?

The 76ers' Theo Ratliff (left) and Andre Iguodala watch the Orlando Magic wrap up the first-round playoff series. GM Ed Stefanski has the unenviable task of fixing a fragile franchise.
The 76ers' Theo Ratliff (left) and Andre Iguodala watch the Orlando Magic wrap up the first-round playoff series. GM Ed Stefanski has the unenviable task of fixing a fragile franchise.
Posted: May 05, 2009

There are some jobs I would never want. Sanitation worker. Schoolteacher. Pretty much anything involving a surgical mask in Mexico.

Add one more to the list of undesirable gigs: Sixers president and general manager. There's no way I would trade places with Ed Stefanski. The money would be nice, but that would be it.

If you were running the Sixers - if it was your job to stop the erosion, scrub away the rust and polish an organization that's lacked shine for far too long - how would you do it? Where would you even begin?

When the season ended last week in ignominious fashion, the already fragile franchise continued to crumble. Andre Iguodala kicked up some dust, and said he planned to sit down with Stefanski to discuss what's wrong with the Sixers. I hope Stefanski has a spare week or two, because that conversation might take some time.

Meanwhile, Theo Ratliff, who did just barely enough this year to collect a paycheck, blamed head coach Tony DiLeo for not properly preparing the Sixers. That's a sentiment I agree with, but it was sort of comical to hear it come from Ratliff. I kept waiting for Kareem Rush or Jason Smith or Hip-Hop the gansta bunny to weigh in. Why not give all the major players a chance to diagnose the patient and recommend a treatment?

"In Theo's case, I'm disappointed in his comments," Stefanski told The Inquirer's Kate Fagan. It was a weak rejoinder, and that never works when you need to squash an unexpected uprising.

Generalissimo Ratliff furthered his mini-rebellion by not attending the 76ers' final team meeting. He and Andre Miller were the only no-shows. Keep fighting your capitalist-pig oppressors, Theo. You're just like Che Guevara, only without the cool hipster T-shirts.

How to handle the rising insurrection and whether to retain DiLeo are just two of Stefanski's long list of troubles. He must also decide whether the team wants to bring back Miller. If so, he has to devise a plan to make that happen, which won't be easy because Miller is an unrestricted free agent who's been pretty open about wanting to win now and his fondness for the Left Coast - two things the Sixers can't offer. If not, if the Sixers aren't interested in keeping Miller, Stefanski has to figure out how to replace his point guard and improve the team - an equally difficult task.

Beyond that, and this is where it gets super tricky, Stefanski has to help the Sixers attract fans again. That may as well be the sports equivalent of chaos theory or quantum physics - there can only be a handful of people on the planet smart enough to do it.

The Sixers have the most creative PR staff in the city. They put together countless packages and giveaways this year, not to mention publicity stunts like 76-cent gas and shopping sprees. By the end of the season, I half expected them to auction off the 15th roster slot and a chance to play in a live game against Oklahoma City or some other down-on-its-luck franchise. Even though the promotions people created a terrific circus, the team still finished near the bottom of the league in attendance - 23d out of 30.

It's tough to get the fans interested when Elton Brand hardly played and Mo Cheeks got fired. To me, those were signals that the Sixers were going nowhere in 2008-09. And even if Brand is completely healed next season, do you think this team, as currently constituted, is a championship contender? And if they can't win it all - if the Sixers are destined to be an early-playoff knockout again next year - will you care or continue to ignore them?

The other thing preventing people from getting behind the Sixers is that they're desperately in need of some personality. Lord knows DiLeo can't be counted on for entertainment. And none of the current Sixers - not even Theo "hold still, coach, while I stick this knife in your back" Ratliff - seem capable of captivating Philly off the court. Which means either Stefanski has to find a face for the franchise, or he's going to have to do it himself. (He's local and smart and quick-witted, so there are worse choices.) Regardless, the team needs an identity because it doesn't have one right now.

That's an awful lot for one man to address between now and the beginning of the 2009-10 season. If you were Stefanski, where would you start? After the Scotch and Xanax, that is.

The700Level posted about a Mets fan who got hit in the head with a glass bottle at Citizens Bank Park over the weekend. Here's hoping the guy is OK. Remember: Arguing with our friends from New York and giving them a hard time is perfectly acceptable and all in good fun. Hitting them is not. . . . Is it me, or is the production value on the ESPN the Magazine commercial with Chad Ocho Cinco, Jameer Nelson, and Hollywood Hamels a little low-rent? . . . SportsWit' would like to extend a warm welcome to all members of the Philadelphia Passion - the area's new Lingerie Football League team. If you have trouble navigating Philly, feel free to call on your humble Page 2 servant at any hour.

Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com.

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