The Hiring of Ed Stefanski and Why The Raptors are Missing the Point

With the hiring of Ed Stefanski, the Toronto Raptors add another very experienced NBA exec.  But did they miss the boat on grabbing a potential franchise culture changer?  The HQ gives their take.

To the casual sports fan, yesterday's announcement that the Toronto Raptors had hired former New Jersey Nets and Philadelphia 76er exec Ed Stefanski, was probably met with nods of agreement, and thoughts of "seems like a good idea."

After all, perusing through the various local media takes on the hiring, lines like "wealth of experience" and "feel for the game" dominated the coverage, and so at first glance this hiring may seem like a very solid move.

Add in the fact that Toronto's front office is currently quite lean after the departure of Masai Ujiri, and a little "isn't this the guy who stole Vince Carter??!!" and yeah, bring on the Ed era!

And then I read the Raptors' official press release on the hiring.

From Raptors' GM and President Bryan Colangelo:

"Ed Stefanski embodies everything I was hoping to attain when the search began for a top level basketball executive to join our staff," said Colangelo. "Ed brings to the table experience, smarts and a great feel for the game and of people."

Here we go again.

I'm not going to say this is Hedo part II, but "embodies everything I was hoping to attain" scares the hell out of me. We're not talking about an executive with three rings courtesy of NBA championships here folks.  We're talking about someone who tried bringing back Allen Iverson and who had a hand in drafting the following players from 2002 to 2007:

Nenad Krstic, Zoran Planinic, Antoine Wright, Marcus Williams, Josh Boone, and Sean Williams.

We're also talking about an executive who decided to dish out mammoth deals to an injured Elton Brand, and a non franchise piece in Andre Iguodala.

So Bryan Colangelo then was looking for another exec to help back him up on overpaying for mediocrity?

Because to me, that's what this signing amounts to - continued mediocrity.

Yes, as the presser noted, the Raps are bringing on someone who held "upper management positions with the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets, where his teams qualified for the NBA playoffs in eight of the past nine seasons."

But where's the beef?

Isn't this exactly what Liberty Ballers blogger Michael Levins warned us about when he noted that Stefanski "seemed to be constantly building to make the playoffs, and nothing else?"

And to me that's the real issue here.

Maybe Bryan Colangelo is indeed calling all the shots still, and Stefanski will simply represent another voice in the war room, but Toronto had a chance to hire someone completely different in terms of basketball beliefs and approach to the game.

And instead, they went for the known entity, someone that wouldn't rock the boat, and likely someone that passed the "oh we know him" test with MLSE.

The whole thing reminded me last night of a scene in the recent Hollywood adaptation of Moneyball, where at the start of the season, Brad Pitt, playing the role of Oakland GM Billy Beane, listens to his other front office execs evaluate potential free agents based on inane things like how attractive their wives are, and their locker room swagger.  To me, Stefanski represents one of those types, touting years of NBA experience that have hardly shook the NBA to its core.

Yes, there are Jrue Holidays and Kenyon Martins to volley the other way, but it's hard not to think of both selections as no-brainers considering their draft classes, and overall Stefanski's resume reads a bit like the average GM.

Which is just about the return on investment I'm expecting from this move.

Doug Smith asked in his blog this morning, "what can it hurt," in relation to the hiring and I'd argue that it's that exact type of thought process that DOES hurt.  The Toronto Raptors are not the LA Lakers.  This team needs to start thinking outside of the box and looking for competitive advantages wherever they can find them, especially considering the lengthy, and perhaps"fan-base compressing rebuild ahead.

I firmly believed that guys like Kevin Pritchard and even Jeff Bower, represented steps in that direction.

Instead, we're left with someone who solicited the following reviews from our colleagues at NetsDaily.com:

 

Dumpy, Nets Daily Blogger:  "For me, it's hard to properly assess Stefanski's contributions to the Nets in part because it is impossible to correctly recognize his role with the Nets. Where did Stefanski start and Rod Thorn end? All we have are rumors and suspicions. I believe that during Stefanski's time in New Jersey, Thorn continued to make all the important decisions, and he simply delegated the day-to-day stuff to Ed, but who really knows. All we know is that during Stefanski's time in the Nets' front office, the Nets gradually degraded from a strong playoff team to a marginal playoff team to an also-ran to a laughingstock. Was it Stefanski's fault, or was it Thorn's doing? Who knows? It was all so forgettable."


Ghoti, Nets Daily Blogger: "The Nets announced they were leaving NJ in 2004 and until Bruce Ratner sold the team winning wasn't the main priority. They were trying to sell tickets and placate what little fanbase they had.

I don't believe Rod Thorn had full autonomy and Stefanski likely had none. If it wasn't for Lawrence Frank, I think the whole thing would have fallen apart much sooner. 

Personally, I always got the sense that Stefanski was a nice person who people liked but lacked intelligence. He had a cozy relationship with the beat writers and he was always good for a quote, which led to him saying a lot of things I found to be baffling, incomprehensible or just plain stupid. He also struck me as somewhat unprofessional.

Anyway, he probably has good relationships around the league, so as long as someone else does the heavy lifting he should be able to make the calls."    

Does a lot of this sound familiar?

Now there's no guarantee of course that Pritchard or Bower would have amounted to better selections, especially if BC is still holding the magic wand of power.

Hell, for all we know, they might not have accepted the position in the end.

But as the Toronto Sun's Ryan Wolstat noted in his article regarding Stefanski, at least Bower was in the running up until the end and based on tweets from his agent, simply wasn't the team's final choice.

Why, we'll probably never know but what's certain is that BC now has indeed another set of eyes and ears, and Toronto has one less front office position to fill.

Beyond that, who knows, as much like his association with Rod Thorn, it will likely be hard to tell which personnel decisions should be associated with Stefanski, and which with Colangelo going forward.

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