TrueHoop: Ed Stefanski

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Andre Miller's departure from Philadelphia left a vacuum at the point guard for the Sixers. The team selected UCLA point-leaning-combo guard Jrue Holiday with its first round draft pick, and has now named 22-year-old, fifth-year guard Louis Williams as the presumptive starter at the point for the 2009-10 season.

Louis Williams

Williams isn't a natural point guard, though there are some promising numbers in his portfolio:
The best news of all for Williams' prospects as the Sixers point guard won't be found on a stat sheet, but with the man pacing the sidelines -- new head coach Eddie Jordan.

Jordan is a devotee to the Princeton offense, or at least its NBA variation. Players and the ball are in perpetual motion in the halfcourt, which means the system is less reliant on a traditional point guard.

Here's Sixers general manager Ed Stefanski explaining the dynamic to NBA.com's Matt Winkeljohn, alluding to his days in New Jersey where Jordan served as an assistant, as well as Jordan's head coaching tenure in Washington:
It may help that coach Jordan is not counting on having a John Stockton-esqe point guard...

"Eddie has shown in Washington that without the prototypical point guard he has made it work with Gilbert Arenas so there's a lot less pressure on the point in a two-guard system than the one point guard-system," Stefanski said.

"The theory is the guy who has the less pressure on him will bring it up. When we were in New Jersey, Kerry Kittles often initiated the offense even when we had Jason Kidd [at point]."

Philadelphia hasn't exactly had a banner offseason, and will be fortunate to contend for much more than a 4 seed in the increasingly competitive Eastern conference. But from a basketball perspective, it should be fascinating to watch Eddie Jordan employ his system with the likes of Andre Iguodala, Thad Young, Williams, Elton Brand, Jason Kapono, and the decidedly un-Princeton-ish center, Samuel Dalembert.

This isn't your prototypical Princeton roster, but Iguodala and Young in particular have the potential to run opponents ragged off the ball and beat defenders to the rim in that motion offense.

Could it work?

Maybe.

In theory, the system should thaw an offense that was especially prone to rigor mortis in the halfcourt.

If nothing else, Sixers fans should be grateful for that.

The Salt Lake Tribune's Ross Siler has this dispatch from the Orlando Pro Summer League, where the Sixers and Nets are strange bedfellows: 

The union became official at halftime of Monday's summer-league opener at the RDV Sportsplex, when 76ers general manager Ed Stefanski pulled up a seat along press row next to Nets president Rod Thorn.

For one week at least, the Atlantic Division rivals have come together, with a joint New Jersey/Philadelphia entry in the Orlando summer league prompted by the worst economy in a generation.

Terrence WilliamsNets rookie Terrence Williams: Would this man steal Eddie Jordan's trade secrets?  (Fernando Medina via Getty Images)

Whatever they lose in individuality, the Sixers and Nets hope to save in costs. They took the court Monday in generic blue NBA jerseys, coached by a staff of two New Jersey and two Philadelphia assistants.

"I'm not a fan of it,” Philadelphia coach Eddie Jordan admitted. "I like working with your own players and teaching your own guys, getting your own guys in your system.”

"I don't want to have to berate their player for not picking up. It just doesn't seem right to get on their players for doing something that you want them to do.”

The marriage has led to some strange scenes, to be sure. Philadelphia's newest first-round pick, Jrue Holiday, warmed up for Monday's game in a Nets shirt, leading one Sixers staffer to observe that a free shirt is a free shirt.

After Monday's game, Jordan was asked about Nets rookie Terrence Williams, prefaced with the qualifier: "You won't have him beyond this week ...”

(Jordan's answer: "He's a very competitive player. He's strong, he's a bull out there. He's got great, quick moves. He can change direction in a heartbeat. He's an aggressive player. I really like him.”)

In addition to their own draft picks and players, the Nets and Sixers each made four selections for the team. The offense can best be described as an overlap of Jordan's and Lawrence Frank's systems.

"It's a combination of what they've done and what we're going to do,” Jordan said. "And that's why we make it work, because we know the Nets.”

Frank called it "a little bit of an introduction” to his offense, adding, "But I think this has to be more about the development of the guys as opposed to putting in your system. Especially when you're
splitting a team, it makes it tougher.”

The biggest benefit, Frank said, comes in having a deeper summer-league team than most. The Nets/Sixers have four recent draft picks in Chris Douglas-Roberts, Holiday, Marreese Speights and Terrence Williams.

Were it not for the history between Jordan and Frank, Thorn and Stefanski, as well as assistants Tom Barrise and Mike O'Koren, the Philadelphia and New Jersey pairing probably would be doomed to
failure.

"It's a joint venture, where it only works for us because we know the Nets guys,” said Jordan, who nevertheless described the partnership as being "different” three times in one answer.

Of course, the Nets and Sixers players still have it better than Bobcats second-round draft pick Derrick Brown, who is playing with the Jazz in Orlando with Charlotte not fielding a summer-league team to cut costs.

Brown ended up with the Jazz thanks to a longtime connection between Charlotte coach Larry Brown and Utah general manager Kevin O'Connor. (There's a lengthy explanation as to why the Jazz didn't also end up with Bobcats lottery pick Gerald Henderson.)

Brown had nine points in his NBA debut Monday night, which came in a Jazz jersey, playing for a team coached by Jazz assistants. In fact, Brown wasn't even sure if the Bobcats were sending a representative
to Orlando to watch him.

"It's definitely a good opportunity to be out there and start the ball rolling in the NBA,” he said. "Whatever it takes for me to make a stand in this league, I'm going to do it.”

Frank was asked if the Nets and Sixers were just ahead of the curve, whether next summer will feature other entries based on geography and cost-saving, like the Heat and Magic, the Bulls and Bucks, the
Warriors and Kings or the Jazz and ... nobody.

"In these economic times, look, you've got to be fiscally very responsible and I think you just have to be prudent in the decisions you make,” Frank said. "Every group is different. This worked for us and Philly and it made sense, and who knows what the future holds. Hopefully, things get better.”

More than a year ago, I was on a media bus from the hotel to Quicken Loans Arena for the NBA Finals, where the San Antonio Spurs were due to smack around the Cleveland Cavaliers for a fourth straight game.

We were talking, not surprisingly, about the imbalance between conferences.

Was it just a case of luck? Certainly, that was a big part of it. For instance, if some East team had won the Tim Duncan sweepstakes, we might think very differently about the conferences in recent years. Yao Ming and Greg Oden could also enter that conversation. While the East has had the top overall pick in LeBron James and Dwight Howard years, the conference has also been there for drafts led by the likes of Kwame Brown, Andrea Bargnani, and Andrew Bogut. All can play, but none in a way that shifts the balance of power.

There are some small built-in injustices. For instance, it's an oddity that the stronger conference ends up getting more than its fair share of lottery picks. (If conference were not a factor in making the playoffs, Philadelphia and Atlanta would have had the lottery picks that ended up in the hands of Golden State and Portland. Repeated year after year, that makes a difference.)

But the best explanation we media fold on the bus could come up with, to explain the persistent imbalance, was that the West had more than its fair share of top front office management.

For instance:

  • Jerry West used every trick in the book to unite Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.
  • The Spurs were ahead of their time in appreciating international players, and made visionary draft picks in Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
  • The Suns made the right gamble on Steve Nash.
  • Mitck Kupchak is now considered great again.
  • Jeff Bower has pushed the right buttons in New Orleans.
  • Everyone in the League seems to think Kevin Pritchard has some kind of mad voodoo.

But there are flickers of life in the East. Danny Ainge brought the league's best defensive big man East and won a title. Donnie Walsh has people optimistic in New York.

And how about that Ed Stefanski in Philadelphia?

The Sixers hired Stefanski on December 4, 2007. He talked to the staff, made some changes to how the team was run, and swapped around some personnel.

But look what happened! A team that had gone 40-59 from the beginning of the 2006 season until Stefanski's hire finished the year 35-30, even while gaining cap flexibility.

A lot of that was on the backs of players previous GM Billy King had drafted, like Thaddeus Young and Jason Smith. But Stefanski was a key factor in getting those young guys playing time.

The Sixers even managed to beat the mighty Pistons twice in the playoffs.

They could have won even more, it seemed, but for the fact that their most reliable scorer, Andre Iguodala, was stymied against Detroit's defense. Virtually all of Philadelphia's scorers are pretty opportunistic, and when Detroit's good defense took the opportunities away, as good teams do in the playoffs ... things got monumentally stagnant.

This was a promising team, in need of a real, big-time, adult scorer.

And against just about everyone's expectations, and thanks to some fancy footwork to trade for even more cap space, Stefanski has reportedly hauled in the absolute cream of the free agent crop, Elton Brand.

Now I look at the Philadelphia roster and say, hey ... not bad. Everybody in the NBA is excited to see the futures of Thaddeus Young and Louis Williams unfold. So there will be improvement there, and likely from Jason Smith too. But now that happens in a context with a rock-solid starting five of Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala, Young, Elton Brand, and Samuel Dalembert, backed up by Williams, Willie Green, Reggie Evans, Smith, and rookie big man Marreese Speights.

John Hollinger likes the mix, and who wouldn't?

What's more, the team clearly needs to add some reliable outside shooting, and Brand could be a free agent magnet. (Remember last month when he did that for the Clippers?) Some free agents really want to win. With Brand, Philadelphia might be in the running for people who have other options.

That would be the icing on the "Welcome Back to Relevancy" cake they should be serving this morning at Sixers headquarters.

So, call the doctor! How do you solve the imbalance between the conferences? There are no miracles. There is no way to immunize a whole conference against incompetence. But there are sometimes successful local operations. One by one, sick franchises can be rehabilitated. In Philadelphia, Ed Stefanski has his scrubs on and is proving to be a skilled surgeon indeed.

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