Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sixers hope lightning strikes twice with Thorn, Stefanski

By John McMullen

Philadelphia -The expression "lightning never strikes twice" is often used to describe a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Of course, science tells us that lightning strikes occur frequently in specific areas and, although rare, repeat strikes occur.

The Philadelphia 76ers are counting on that.

To be blunt, Ed Stefanski probably should have joined his hand-picked coach Eddie Jordan on the unemployment line after last year's disastrous Sixers season. But, the Comcast-Spectacor braintrust of Ed Snider and Peter Luukko, loathe to admit another in a long line of mistakes, gave the embattled Philadelphia basketball chief one more chance.

This time, with the leash pulled tight in the form of assistant general manager Tony DiLeo and consultant Gene Shue watching over his shoulder, Stefanski made a prudent decision and inked the highly regarded Doug Collins to be the team's mentor in 2010-11.

The hire happened a year after it should have and cost the Sixers dearly in the crowded, very competitive Philadelphia sports market, but Stefanski was finally moving the team in the right direction again. Dealing underachieving center Samuel Dalembert to Sacramento for Spencer Hawes and Andres Nocioni, and landing Evan Turner after lucking out a bit in the NBA Draft Lottery also were regarded as feathers in Stefanski's cap.

That said, you could still sense the Sixers' brass wasn't all that comfortable with Stefanski leading the organization.

That sentiment came into focus on Thursday when Snider and Luukko named Stefanski's old boss in New Jersey. Rod Thorn, as the team's new president.

"We felt with the direction we are now heading that it was important for us to have two very strong basketball minds leading the Philadelphia 76ers," Luukko said. "We are building a strong organization and we're off to a terrific start with the addition of coach Doug Collins, the best available coach, and Evan Turner, who we feel was the best available player in the draft. Now we have added another top-level executive to help lead us into the future."

Thorn, an NBA veteran of more than four decades, spent the past 10 seasons as president of the New Jersey Nets. He was the 2001-02 NBA Executive of the Year and guided the Nets to a pair of Eastern Conference crowns in 2002 and 2003 as well as four Atlantic Division titles before stepping down last month.

"Over my time with the Nets, most of it was great," Thorn said. "The last few years we dismantled the team, on purpose, because of a corporate decision and that wasn't much fun. My feeling is, that time had run its course there."

Stefanski worked under Thorn in New Jersey for nine seasons, moving up from director of scouting to general manager, and was instrumental in the 2004 blockbuster transaction that brought All-Star Vince Carter to the Nets in exchange for a banged-up Alonzo Mourning and assorted flotsam.

Thorn himself engineered two major deals in June of 2001 that set the Nets up for success, trading the team's first pick in the 2001 NBA Draft (Eddie Griffin) to the Houston Rockets for their three first-round picks, one of which turned out to be Richard Jefferson. A day later, he negotiated a major six-player blockbuster trade with the Phoenix Suns that landed New Jersey Jason Kidd in exchange for Stephon Marbury.

"Rod is one of the most respected basketball minds in the game today," Snider said. "When we learned that he would not be re-signing with the Nets, we realized that this would be a terrific opportunity to bring one of the top executives in the NBA to the Sixers to work closely with Ed Stefanski. I'm really pleased to be adding him to our organization. I'm confident that Rod will be a tremendous asset for our team."

It's clear Stefanski excelled under Thorn's auspices before, but the situation is a bit different this time. No matter how you spin it Stefanski, who had served as the Sixers' president and general manager since December of 2007, was demoted on Thursday and called the decision surprising at first.

"My pity party lasted for about a half hour, then I was fine after that," Stefanski said.

Thorn, who made his NBA bones as the general manager in Chicago from 1978-1985 when he selected Michael Jordan third overall in the '84 draft, was quick to temper any possible dissension.

"Some say that when Ed left, the Nets weren't as good after that," Thorn said. "I have a lot of respect for Ed, both on a professional and personal level. And I look forward to working very closely with him as we go forward. He understands me, and I think I understand him. We make a good team, and hopefully that will take effect and be something we can all be proud of here."

Whether a Thorn-Stefanski sequel ends up doing similar business 90 miles down the Jersey Turnpike will likely depend on Stefanski's ability to swallow his pride and handle a rather significant blow to his ego.

"Rod is my mentor in the NBA," Stefanski said. "He taught me a lot of things about the NBA and we are close friends. I know Rod, he knows me. We work extremely well together. I think we were a hell of a team in New Jersey and I think the results showed that. There is no reason to say that we are not going to do the same thing here."

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