Contrary to popular belief, making a mistake is not the worst thing you can do in a position of power. Mistakes happen. They're a part of life. For the most part, mistakes can be overcome and lessons can be learned. The biggest sin a decision-maker can commit is to make a mistake, then compound that mistake by failing to correct it. The sin becomes unforgivable when the reason for leaving it uncorrected is less-than honorable. Enter the Philadelphia 76ers brain trust, pictured above (Ed Snider, Peter Luukko and Ed Stefanski, left to right).
In the emotional lexicon of Sixers bloggers, I think I'm probably the most optimistic. I don't think many would argue with that assessment. The players, management, pretty much everyone gets a longer leash from me than they do from the other guys who follow the team and write about them regularly. I try to give everything, and everyone a fair shake before making my mind up on their performance or value. This may lead to overvaluing assets, seeing the silver lining in certain deals and even ignoring facts for longer than I should. But there's a flip side to this optimism. When I finally do turn on someone, there's sure to be a mountain of evidence that forced my hand.
With Eddie Jordan, it took me somewhere around 20 games to relent. After that much time it was blatantly obvious the guy pays no attention to defense whatsoever, his ego far outstrips his knowledge and skill as a coach, etc. Once I reached that point with Jordan, the clock started ticking on Ed Stefanski, and by the transitive property on ownership of the team as well. My leash for Stefanski was long, simply because when I look at his body of work, the majority of his moves make a ton of sense (or made a ton of sense at the time). Here's a breakdown:
- Traded Kyle Korver for a first-round pick and Gordan Giricek (good move, freed up cap space, opened up minutes for Thad Young)
- Drafted Marreese Speights with the #16 pick in the draft. (Good value, position of need)
- Traded Rodney Carney, Calvin Booth and the draft pick obtained in the Korver deal for cap relief and a protected 2nd-round pick in 2010. (Freed up enough cap space for...)
- Signed Elton Brand to "Philly-max" contract, 5 years, $80M (The two trades above made this possible. I loved the move at the time and still think it was the right thing to do. The cap space would've evaporated when Iguodala and Lou Williams signed, Brand was the best available free agent at the biggest position of need for the Sixers)
- Extended Mo Cheeks' contract through 2010 (seemed needless, but I didn't really have a problem with it at the time)
- Extended Andre Iguodala, 6 years/$82M (more money than anyone else could've offered, but a fair price for his talents. Wish they could've done it cheaper, but didn't lose any sleep over the contract and haven't had a second thought since)
- Extended Lou Williams, 5 years/$25M (maybe a little steep, but not out of line with what other guys in similar situations got that summer. Vujacic. Didn't have a problem with it at the time)
- Signed Donyell Marshall, Theo Ratliff, Kareem Rush, Royal Ivey to minimum contracts to round out the roster (Defense, shooting and veterans for the bench for minimums. Wins across the board, even though Rush turned out to be a huge stiff)
- Fired Mo Cheeks after a disappointing start. (At the time, I wasn't happy about this, mainly because I thought bringing DiLeo in was conceding the season.)
- Did not trade Andre Miller (Did not have a problem with this because the Sixers were in contention and I didn't hear one rumor that seemed worth more than a trip to the playoffs with a team that seemed to be playing high quality basketball together again).
- Did not retain Tony DiLeo as his coach (I think we were all fine with this, especially considering how the playoffs ended).
- Hired Eddie Jordan to become the new coach. (Did not like this move at the time. Wanted a defensive coach.)
- Traded Reggie Evans for Jason Kapono (Liked the deal at the time, Evans was essentially a drag on the team, Kapono's one skill was the team's biggest weakness)
- Drafted Jrue Holiday at #17 (Loved the move at the time, still do)
- Did not re-sign Andre Miller (Didn't love the move, but also didn't think Miller was worth a three-year commitment)
- Signed Royal Ivey to a two-year deal for the minimum (Neither here nor there)
- Signed Primoz Brezec to a one-year deal for the minimum (Hated this move. There were far more talented bigs out there available for the same amount of money. This was, what I considered to be the first move made to fit Eddie Jordan's style.)
- Did not use any portion of the MLE or the Bi-Annual exceptions (I wasn't thrilled about this, but I also didn't see many guys out there who would've added anything to the roster. I would've liked to have seen a veteran point brought in to sit on the end of the bench).
- Signed Allen Iverson for the veteran's minimum in early December (Hated, hated, hated this move, and still do for the most part)
There you have it, Ed Stefanski's moves (and non-moves) as the Sixers' GM. I underlined the moves which I think you could muster a legitimate argument where bad decisions, regardless of motivation for them.
I started this post off talking about making mistakes and recovering from them. It's a very simple, yet painful process. Step one is to admit you made a mistake, step two is to do whatever you can to correct it. The third and most-important step is to learn from that mistake and alter the way you do things so it never happens again.
Some of the mistakes Stefanski has made he cannot simply undo. I can't tell you for certain whether he considers signing Elton Brand a mistake, I can tell you the decision doesn't look great at this point. Brand is playing very well, but his minutes have been limited, he isn't even starting and it's looking less and less likely that he'll be anywhere near his prime when the rest of the roster is ready to compete (if they're ever ready to compete). If he does consider Brand a mistake, he should try to move him, and he very well may be trying to do just that, but it isn't something you can simply hit the undo button on. None of the personnel decisions he's made are quick fixes, and you have to take that into account when grading a general manager.
If you're an owner, however, and you see a GM who you've given autonomy to in basketball matters consistently making personnel mistakes, then you've probably made a mistake hiring him and you must rectify that situation immediately. We'll get back to the ownership in a minute, though.
As I've said numerous times, I cannot kill Stefanski for any personnel moves he made prior to this July. Brand was a good signing in my eyes, and his play now supports that decision. It was bad luck that he dislocated his shoulder, but by and large his record as a GM through his first 18 months in the job was positive. Then this summer happened and I believe the snowball started with hiring Jordan.
If you believe he had a strict budget, and that played a role in his decision to hire Jordan I will concede the point, to a limit. Jordan may have carried the lowest asking price of any established head coach, but they could've gotten an assistant for less than they paid Jordan (including the portion of the tab Washington is picking up this season). If Stefanski was bullheaded about needing a head coach with head coaching experience, then shame on him for being so closed-minded in his search. Either way, hiring Eddie Jordan to coach this roster, at this stage of their development was criminally negligent.
That hire was the tragic mistake Stefanski will be remembered for, in my mind, and his reaction to it is shameful. I reached the end of my rope a month ago, but he hired Jordan, he's personal friends with him, he was his guy, so I can understand wanting to give him more time simply to see if things would work out. My grace period for Stefanski's evaluation of Jordan has officially expired at this point and I'm left asking myself: Why hasn't Ed Stefanski rectified the situation yet?
The possible answers to that question are what truly frighten me:
- Stefanski has truly bought into Eddie Jordan's system and his coaching style - The most frightening possibility. If this is the case, Stefanski and Jordan should both be fired immediately and never work in the NBA again. If they're allowed to continue to run the organization we're going to see a slew of terrible personnel moves to get Jordan's type of players (Jump shooters who don't defend) to replace the defenders we currently have on the roster.
- Stefanski's job is tied directly to Jordan's - It's sink or swim with Jordan and Stefanski has been put on notice. If this is the case, they should both be fired immediately because their primary concern is no longer the long-term success of the franchise, but meaningless wins in the short term to keep their jobs.
- Stefanski doesn't want to get egg on his face - He hand-picked Eddie Jordan. This was his guy brought in to coach what is essentially his roster. He has the cache with the front office to fire Jordan and survive, but he won't do it because he's too prideful to admit his buddy has ruined his team. If this is the case, Stefanski should be fired immediately.
- Ownership has said they will not eat another coach's salary - If this is the case, Stefanski should be making the case that (a) they can promote from within to keep the cost of replacing Jordan minimal and (b) keeping Jordan here will cost them more money down the road as bad play will erode what little fan support they still have. If Stefanski truly cannot fire Jordan because of ownership, he needs to emasculate him, publicly, and take all important decisions out of his hands. Step one is to immediately fire all of Jordan's guys on his coaching staff. O'Koren and Ayers should be gone immediately and replaced by assistants who will immediately install new offensive and defensive systems. Maybe you can get Jordan to quit.
- It's coming, just not yet - Stefanski has a predetermined date, or low-water mark which will either allow him to, or prompt him to take action against Jordan. If this is the case, then please let that grace period end quickly and let Stefanski's action be decisive. In my mind, if this doesn't happen before February 1st, Stefanski should be fired.
I believe the least-likely scenarios are one and five. There's no way a smart man who's followed basketball his entire life can possibly buy into Jordan's moronic coaching technique. It's just not possible. And I'm not so much of a hopeless optimist that I can fool myself into believing Stefanski will do the right thing.
It's one of the middle three, possibly a combination of them. Unfortunately, to me, this means Stefanski needs to go right along with Jordan. This is where Luukko and Snider come into the equation.
Say what you want about corporate ownership of sports teams in general, or the Sixers owners specifically, but they have made the investment to put a winner on the floor. In the summer of 2008 Ed Stefanski had a blank check book to take an upstart team that made a surprise run to the playoffs to the next level. They committed almost $200M to three players and publicly stated they weren't done spending there, if more money could bring a title to Philadelphia.
Six months later, they allowed their general manager to fire the head coach whom he'd extended over the summer because things weren't working out as planned. The team rebounded, despite losing Elton Brand and ownership showed some more patience, allowing Stefanski to keep the team together for another playoff run when they could've looked at the bottom line, the team's record and demanded a sell-off at the trading deadline.
Here's where things get a little murky. Collectively we suffered through a tumultuous economy during the season in 08-09, to say the least. Comcast saw their stock price drop 35% in September 2008 (although it fully regained its value by June, when Jordan was hired), and it was time for some belt tightening. I have to believe the decisions to not re-sign Andre Miller, not use the mid-level exception and sign Eddie Jordan to coach (with Washington picking up a large portion of the tab) were at least partially due to financial constraints. This is why I think Stefanski may possibly be able to survive firing his guy this early in the season. If they set a spending limit, Ed S. can say he wasn't allowed to conduct an exhaustive search for the right man for the job. Instead, he had to settle for the right price for the job.
While the reason for hiring Eddie Jordan may be somewhat ambiguous, the state of the franchise right now is not. They are an absolute joke and couldn't be any less relevant in the nation's eyes, or in the Philadelphia sports fan's eyes. That has to be of the utmost concern to both Luukko and Snider. All that money they laid out 18 months ago is looking like a lost fortune and they really need to start looking closely at who's to blame, what can be salvaged and who should be making the decisions about what can/should be salvaged.
Personally, I've reached the point where I think a top-to-bottom shakeup is needed. The first step is admitting the tragic mistake of hiring Eddie Jordan and wiping the deck clean. Jordan, O'Koren, Ayers and any other member of Jordan's entourage need to be escorted out of the Wach before they can do any more damage to the team. Promote an interim coach from within, tell him to play the youth and concentrate on defense. Then they need to get a president of basketball operations. Someone to sit between ownership and the GM and make the financial decisions, because Luukko/Snider clearly are not capable. Whoever that man is should have the power to hire and fire a general manager, and he will make the decision on Stefanski.
Only the owners and Stefanski himself know where the blame lies for this. I don't know how much passing of the buck is going on, I'd guess there's quite a bit, but the bottom line is the team was on the right track as recently as last April, the personnel hasn't changed much since then, and now they're a broken franchise. Something needs to be done quickly before the franchise sinks so low that it doesn't matter who coaches and who makes the personnel decisions. If Luukko and Snider think the attendance has bottomed out this season, they're wrong. I personally know a number of season ticket holders who do not plan to renew their tickets. The Allen Iverson gimmick is a card you can only play once. This team is in a desperate situation and it requires immediate action.
Luukko, Snider and Stefanski, you collectively made this mess. It's up to the three of you to clean it up, and until you do, you've completely used up any good faith you had garnered from the fans with your 2008 spending spree. Right the ship, or it's going to sink, dragging you down with it.