Stefanski replaces King as 76ers' general manager
PHILADELPHIA -- Ed Stefanski is trading a difficult commute for a much tougher road: trying to turn a fallen franchise into a winner.
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," Stefanski said.
For the second straight year, the Sixers (5-12) are off to a miserable start.
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 games.
"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.
Hollinger: Why Now?
That Billy King got fired is no shock. That the 76ers did it now, midway through a rebuilding process is baffling, John Hollinger writes.
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," Snider said.
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.
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 year.
"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 players.
"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 said.
King said in the preseason he wasn't concerned about his lame-duck status.
"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."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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