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Ed Stefanski.JPGLast week, shortly after I wrote this post, I received an e-mail from the Sixers PR department asking me if I'd like to talk to President/General Manager Ed Stefanski. Needless to say, I immediately replied in the affirmative, checked to make sure this wasn't a cruel prank and began preparing the questions I would ask. I bit my tongue here, because I didn't want to jinx anything.

On Monday, Mr. Stefanski gave me a call and we had a 20-minute conversation which ranged from international scouting to Herbert Hill's status. He shared his short-term and long-term plans for the team, discussed the Kyle Korver trade in detail and provided some context, broke down the futures of rookies Thad Young and Jason Smith and even aired a beef he had with me.

It was a rare opportunity for a blogger to talk to the GM of a team he covers, and I'd like to thank the Sixers and Mr. Stefanski for taking the time to speak to Sixers fans through this blog. Continue reading after the jump for the full interview complete with quotes.

After a few minor problems with the confusing phone system in my office, Ed Stefanski finally got through to me at about 2:15, Monday afternoon. We said our hellos, I introduced myself to him and he made it pretty clear right away that he had a bone to pick with me: "I have a problem with your handle...Depressed Fan? Jesus!" was his opening salvo to our interview. Great way to start, huh? We had a laugh over that, I explained my reasons for the blog's name and we took it from there.

Going into the interview I had about 10 questions written down. My main goals were to get a feel for Stefanski's plan for the future of the franchise, get to the bottom of the Korver trade, get his take on the state of the Sixers right now, as a newcomer to the organization, and see how things were going to be different under him than they were under Billy King.

Over his 8 years with the Nets, as Scouting Director, VP of Basketball Operations and finally General Manager, Stefanski earned a reputation as a top-notch talent evaluator. My first question was designed to draw upon his skills as an evaluator, as well as his history working for a division rival. I wanted to know which Sixers had surprised him when he came to Philly. Who was better than the scouting report the Nets have on him.

Stefanski went right to the draft to answer my first question. The Nets picked #17 in the first round (They took Sean Williams from B.C.), he said both Thad Young and Jason Smith were on their radar for that pick. They interviewed both of them and he while he was impressed then, he's been blown away since seeing them play and practice every day.

On Jason Smith, "He's an NBA basketball player, no question in my mind. He's a 7-footer with a very high skill set. He's a wonderful kid and a hard worker. There's no doubt he should become a good player. Is he a starter? I'm not sure, but he's definitely a rotation type basketball player."

Thad YoungOn Thad Young, "He is better than I thought. He was one of the best interviews we'd ever had, Rod (Thorn) and I. We knew he had the personality make-up. People said he was a nice kid, and he really is, but he has a little bit of an edge to him on the court, which is important. Which I like. To me he has very big upside. What everyone has to remember is that this kid is 19 and he won't be 20 until until June. The fans should feel good that he's in the game and we're seeing more and more of him. He has a chance to be a bonafide starter with no question. How high he can go is up to him. He listens to the coaches and he works hard just like Jason Smith."

"Where Thaddeus' game will get to the next level is when he works on his handle and gets his handle better. To be that size and be able to handle the ball, he can go anywhere on the court. I think that's the one thing he needs to work on." He continued.

Stefanski then turned the spotlight on an established player, Sam Dalembert. "Since I've been here, Sam Dalembert has been off-the-charts good. I mean, not just good, off-the-charts good. Sammy has done more than I expected when I came in."

I followed up with a question about Thad's role. I asked if he saw Andre Iguodala moved over to the two and Thad as his starter at the three, 2 years down the road. His response, "You could definitely project that no problem, but I'm hoping it happens a lot sooner than 2 years. This is going to be a huge Summer for both of those guys."

Since we were talking about rookies, I then asked for an update on Herbert Hill's injury situation. "His knee has not responded as well to the surgery, so I'd say you aren't going to see him for a few weeks still."

We went on to talk about his background in overseas scouting and I asked if he was going to improve or at least put a greater emphasis on international scouting in Philadelphia. He said he didn't think it was an organizational bias against overseas talent, but more of an opportunity thing. The Sixers have good scouts in Europe, and they were actually one of the teams taking a hard look at Andres Nocioni a couple of years ago. Bringing foreign talent to the team is definitely something he'll look to do, but only if the opportunity presents itself, he went on to explain.

Kyle KorverIt was finally time to broach the issue of the one roster move Stefanski has orchestrated, the Kyle Korver trade. I asked him to walk me through the deal, beginning to end, and he had some interesting things to say. Basically, when he took over he had a couple of options, either make some changes or stick with the status quo. In his own words, "The status quo was not an option."

I think this was the key part of the interview, because we got to the root of Stefanski's blueprint for rebuilding this team. "The ultimate goal every year when you start this thing is to win an NBA championship. If that isn't your goal, you shouldn't be in the game." With this goal in mind, he went on to talk about Korver, "Kyle Korver is a good player, a very good shooter, I'll say. A very good shooter. On a team that doesn't have a low-post presence, he isn't as good of shooter as he would be on a team with one. He's not going to get as many open looks on a team without a low-post presence because if I'm coaching against them I just tell my guy, well just cover Korver, don't worry about helping out. If you're coaching against us (the Sixers) who do you have to double that's going to leave Korver open?" The logic is that Kyle Korver is a luxury for the Sixers at this point. A complete, playoff team needs a shooter like him, they need a guy who can hit the open three. On a team like the Sixers, without all of the basic pieces in place, that finishing touch is almost wasted. That makes Korver much more valuable to a team like Utah than he was to the Sixers. That's the on-the-court reasoning, the bigger picture is what the Sixers got in return for him.

"We're in a position right now where we want to go into the Summer with cap space. Right now, we're at a low of $10M in cap space, a high of $12M depending on where the league number comes in. We are under the cap and our options are much, much more liberal than they would be if we were over the cap. We can use this money either to sign a free agent, or to trade, with a player or without a player, to another team in a situation where that team doesn't have to take money on. If you look around the league, there are always teams that are unhappy with what went on. They're spending a lot of money on their players, and you know, it's just not working so let's see if we can get rid of a guy or two. We'll be situated in the Summer so that if an opportunity like this arises, we can seize that opportunity. We feel that it's really important that with the team we have, it's crucial that we have this flexibility. We also got extra value in the future draft pick."

The logic here is that a shooter of Korver's caliber, while important to a complete team, is less valuable than the basic needs. If you can give up the shooter to get the star, or in this case, the low-post presence, then you can get another shooter down the line. It's worth noting here that Stefanski didn't try to sell us a line. He didn't say something like, well we got Giricek back so we didn't lose that much on the court. In fact, he didn't even mention Giricek by name. The haul here was the cap space first and the draft pick second, end of story. I give him credit for this frank appraisal of the situation. At the same time, it must be said that while I'm in favor of the Korver deal, I would've preferred to send a guy like Willie Green or Rodney Carney the other way in a deal that would've created cap space. Korver is an asset, that's the reason the Sixers got such a haul for him, but losing an asset does have a finite cost when you're trying to rebuild a team.

It seemed like we kept skirting the upcoming Summer throughout the conversation, so now was a good time to dive right in. I started off by mentioning a couple of names who may or may not be available (Josh Smith, Elton Brand, Antawn Jameson), obviously he couldn't comment on anyone specifically, but we could talk in general terms. His direct quote was, "We want to bring in another guy at the level of Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala. The preference would be, like so many teams, that that guy would be a power forward. A big man."

When I asked him if he thought the $10M-$12M in cap space would be enough to land one of the impact restricted free agents (Josh Smith, Emeka Okafor, Luol Deng) his response, "It'll be interesting. We'll make it interesting. The thing is, right now, we're the only team with any kind of money. That could change if other teams try to do the same thing we've done at the trading deadline. But right now, we're the only game in town."

Speaking of the trade deadline, I then asked if there could be more moves on the horizon, to clear even more cap space, his response, "You know, people look at the deal we made (Korver) and they think we're just gutting the team, which we're not. Let me just reiterate, we are not looking to trade Andre Miller. I'm not making any calls. We're fielding calls. We field calls every day, but we are not actively trying to trade Andre Miller. He's a great player and why not keep him and build around him?"

We talked a little bit about Billy King. Stefanski pointed to the late draft picks King turned into solid players (Lou Williams, Sam Dalembert, Willie Green) and whenever he talked about the future of the team he talked about Thad Young and Jason Smith. He spoke highly of the motivation and resilience of this young team, which never seems to give up even though they aren't the most talented team out there. His parting words, "I think the future is bright. Have I made you a little less depressed?"

Honestly, I think it was great that he took the time to call me and just have a conversation about the Sixers. I do like the flexibility the Korver trade gives the Sixers this offseason, but the jury is still out. That cap space has to be turned into something, and it has to be turned into something special. If $10M-$12M isn't enough to land one of the top-flight restricted free agents, then more moves should be made to clear more cap space. The future of the team will depend largely on the development of Thad Young, Lou Williams and Jason Smith, but it can be greatly accelerated with a key acquisition or two this offseason. I think Stefanski realizes this, he isn't talking about three-year plans, he's talking about tangible, big changes in the near future. Changes which could catapult this team into the playoffs. I'm confident he's got this franchise headed in the right direction, but we need to see the results before I'll be able to fully shake my depression.

Again, a huge thanks to Mr. Stefanski and the Sixers organization. It's a forward-thinking GM who reaches out to the fans in this manner, I'm hoping more teams and executives will follow suit.
by Brian on Jan 15 2008
Tags: Basketball | Ed Stefanski | Exclusives | Interviews | Sixers |