Stefanski, the Sixers' rebounding GM

Ed Stefanski: "People said I put too much emphasis on Collins to save my bacon."
Ed Stefanski: "People said I put too much emphasis on Collins to save my bacon."
Posted: February 28, 2011

Rebounding nicely from a 3-13 start, the 76ers are suddenly playing the best basketball they have in years. A team once easy to forget is now difficult to ignore. Makes you wonder whether Doug Collins and his crew have saved Ed Stefanski's job.

Stefanski was an easy and deserving target last season during the disastrous Eddie Jordan regime. If not for Stefanski, Jordan wouldn't have come to power or been exiled almost immediately thereafter.

While the general manager shouldn't have installed Jordan, he also rectified the error by replacing him with Collins. Stefanski talked to Page 2 about cleaning up his mess, his demotion, and who's really running the Sixers.

Question: You've taken a lot of heat. Does that make this season more rewarding or enjoyable for you?

Stefanski: I'm very happy for the fans. Some of our players had a rough year last year. The organization, we took a step back. People forgot that we made the playoffs two years in a row. The fans are enjoying themselves now, and they deserve that.

Q: But what about you personally? A lot of people thought you should've been fired for various reasons - Elton Brand, Eddie Jordan, and so on. Do you feel like, with the way the team is playing, you've redeemed yourself?

Stefanski: When we first signed Elton, I was a genius for doing it. Then I was a moron. I feel great for Elton. This is the Elton we thought we were getting. This season he's been our most consistent player. He's probably our MVP this year. I never looked back and second-guessed myself. You put a plan together and execute it, but you never know how it will work out.

Q: Was Eddie Jordan the biggest mistake you've made as an executive?

Stefanski: I made the mistake and the choice. I can't blame Eddie for everything that happened. That would be unfair. It just never jelled. We kind of threw the Princeton [offense] away early. Thad Young - he was so good before that, but he had a disappointing year. He was missing in action. Lou Williams was missing in action. Elton Brand, our big free agent, he wasn't starting. And it snowballed from there. To say that guys gave up, that would be fair. They give the effort now.

Q: How much of that renewed effort is owed to Collins?

Stefanski: He has so much to do with it. We had a very poor year last year, but we had a good pick, we got a good player. The big thing was getting Doug Collins. He's a great teacher, and our young players that need to be taught have really responded well to him. We can see who can and who can't play under Doug. He's resurrected our team. He's the face of the franchise.

Q: You said, with Collins here you've been able to see who can and can't play. Some people still aren't sure about Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner. Do you know what you have there, or are you figuring it out?

Stefanski: With Turner, it's nothing that surprised us. We went back to his high school and AAU coaches. The theme about Evan Turner, he has to make himself comfortable in his surroundings. He sort of fought Doug in the beginning about how to understand the system and work within it and with other players. Even though he hasn't set the world on fire as the second pick in the draft, he's shown a lot of promise.

Andre is more respected outside of Philadelphia by the executives in the NBA. His personality, he's not outgoing. He's not high-fiving. He's not reacting to the crowd. I'm not sure the fans like that. Fans look at points and rebounds, not defense. He's a terrific defensive player. Doug puts him on the best player of the other team. And because the amount of money he's paid, people want Andre to be a leader. I don't think that's fair. The leader of our franchise is Doug Collins.

Q: You've now called Collins the face of the franchise and the leader of the franchise. That's fine for a little while, but can that really work long-term - having a coach instead of a star player fill those roles?

Stefanski: No, probably not. But right now, after last year, we need him to do that. Our young players, I think they'll take over eventually.

Q: You're clearly a big proponent of Collins. He was your hire. Do you think he saved your job?

Stefanski: A lot of people said I put too much emphasis on Collins to save my bacon. If they want to say he saved my bacon, that's fine. Doug has done an excellent job.

Q: You have another year left on your contract. Do you expect to be here? And do you want to be a Sixer long-term?

Stefanski: I've only been here four years. We made the playoffs two years in a row when I got here. Then last year happened. That put a sour taste in some people's mouths. I love Philadelphia. It's my home. I'm under contract. Coming back after that is up to the ownership.

Q: Did you feel like you were marginalized when they brought in Rod Thorn? Did you resent it?

Stefanski: When they brought in Rod, I had a pity party for about a half hour, then I moved on. Things are working out and going the right way. I understand the fans of Philadelphia because I'm born and raised here. I didn't hide when I was demoted.

But I don't feel marginalized. I was with [Thorn] in New Jersey. He was my mentor. I put pressure on myself. No one has to do it for me. We do everything together. We come up with ideas. But, hey, Rod is the president now. If it [screws] up, it's his fault. [Laughs.]


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

Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/gonzophilly

 

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