Ed Stefanski Is More Of The Same For The Toronto Raptors, For Better Or Worse

By Dan Levine

The headline above can be a good thing or a bad thing, but regardless, it seems to be the general consensus among pretty much everybody covering this story.

Let’s review (courtesy of the National Post):

“The Toronto Raptors have added plenty of experience to their front office.

The club has hired Ed Stefanski, formerly the president and general manager of both the New Jersey Nets and Philadelphia 76ers, as executive vice-president of basketball operations. The team made the announcement on Wednesday. Bryan Colangelo, the team’s president and general manager, will still be at the top of the pyramid of the Raptors’ decision-making brain trust.

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

Experience, yes. Stefanski certainly has plenty of that. But what good is experience if the results weren’t there? Because let’s be honest: Plenty of Stefanski’s work has been average at best, especially his most recent job in Philadelphia.

Still, it shows the Raptors are willing to spend money despite the NBA lockout and despite a potential sale at the corporate level. For this, they get some credit from me, and from Michael Grange at sportsnet.ca:

“Companies that are for sale don’t typically make investments that have little obvious bottom-line advantages. Businesses that are locking out their employees and not generating any revenue aren’t usually looking to hire people.

And yet the Raptors have been in acquisition mode lately. Since the end of last season they’ve hired Dwane Casey, perhaps the hottest head coaching prospect on the market as the lead assistant on the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.

And while Casey has literally had nothing to do since July 1st – team staff can’t contact players – that didn’t stop the Raptors from hiring a pair of assistants and retaining four more whose deals had expired. Former coach Jay Triano is still getting paid as is high-priced assistant P.J. Carlesimo.”

These aren’t huge expenses, but they do signal a franchise that isn’t looking to pinch pennies when it comes to personnel.”

Sounds great, when you look at the Stefanski signing as yet another step in the direction of winning at all costs. Because it’s true – the Raptors haven’t hesitated to spend money this offseason – but again, how will Stefanski fit in Toronto’s front office, and what can he bring to the table in terms of impact? Remember that he’s working under Colangelo, so his hands will be tied by the powers that be.

The Toronto Star’s Doug Smith doesn’t disagree in his blog entry on the topic, but he also doesn’t see Stefanski’s limited role as a negative:

“He’s going to do what a lot of sports front office types do, offer advice on players and acquisitions, chat to agents and other execs, be a sounding board for coaches and his boss.

He’s not going to come in and make a huge impact, that job – whatever it’s called – isn’t designed for that.

It’s designed to be a guy on a team, one piece of many and the fact that Ed’s got a wide and varied background – New Jersey, Philly, Wharton School grad, connections with agents, players, other coaches, organizations, sure isn’t going to hurt.

I’m sure there will be gaffes in the front office and successes, some deals will be good and some will be bad. It’s the way the game operates and anyone who thinks one guy is going to make some immediate impact or prove to be the difference-maker doesn’t quite understand how the game works.

If you were to go through the past of every significant NBA exec, you’d find some head-scratching moves that didn’t work out at all. You’d also find most have been parts of teams that have had success.

You hire a guy, trust his judgement and his past experience and hope the advice he offers works out well.”

Again, sounds great on paper. But come on – if Bryan Colangelo was looking for a true sounding board and a voice that differs from his own, it’s hard to believe he’d choose Ed Stefanski, despite his vast NBA connections and experienced background. Just read what Michael Levin of Liberty Ballers (Philadelphia 76ers fan site) had to say to Raptors HQ about the executive… and ask yourself who this description reminds you of:

“It just seemed that we were constantly building to make the playoffs, and nothing else.  And that’s still the case.  What Ed doesn’t understand in terms of basketball, is how to build a champion – there’s a gap there between putting together a good group of guys who will win games, and that next level.  Obviously every GM is trying to do that, and many others can’t too, but it always seemed like he was more happy to stay mediocre, than take a step back in order to eventually take two or three forward.  His opinion was that there was no reason to get worse, and then get much better in a couple of years.  So it always felt like he was saving his ass, and never had a plan…

So when I talk about Ed Stefanski, and I apologize if I’m rambling, what Ed has never really understood is that in order to get better, sometimes you have to get worse, and grow, and evaluate your talent, and say “we’re not the team we thought we were, let me cut my losses,” etc.  Instead it always seemed with Ed that he was an inch away from getting fired, and he was content to just win enough to skate by.”

Seriously, if this isn’t Bryan Colangelo 2.0, I don’t know who is. And that’s not to say that I don’t believe in BC going forward, because I actually think he’s started to figure out this whole rebuilding thing. But again, as the GM who oversaw a faux contender since 2007, Stefanski reminds me a whole lot of the Toronto Raptors throughout their history: mediocre.

That’s not to say Stefanski is a bad GM, but if Colangelo was looking for some outside-the-box help, he seems to have gone in the complete opposite direction.

All in all, it’s pretty hard to hate this signing, but it’s also pretty hard to love it. Yes, the Raptors have brought in a man who’s been around the NBA and been a part of a success story in the New Jersey front office. On the other hand, he hasn’t demonstrated the ability to build a perennial contender though the draft and through shrewd signings, like the best NBA GMs.

With that in mind, most observers will glance at the move and agree that it’s a solid signing, while time will tell whether it actually pays off in the long run. Of course, as Grange points out at the end of his piece, maybe there’s not much anybody could do for this franchise at this point in time:

“What can Stefanski really tell them? That their point guard is too slow and too expensive; their leading scorer is too one-dimensional, they lack an all-star presence on the wing and their depth is questionable?

Got that? Weak at the point; weak in the middle; weak on the wing and weak on the bench. Plug’em in for 21 wins. You can’t pay for that kind of insight, but MLSE, apparently will.

But for that they deserve credit.

The next question is whether Colangelo will be ready to listen.”

I think that sums it up quite nicely. What do you think of the signing, and other Raptors-related issues?

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November 1, 2011 8:03 pm

When I think of the Raptors, which is as little as possible… all I think is, really, how the hell are they going to be a contender, ever. They are not one of the 6 or so key destinations in the NBA where the players want to go (New York, LAL, Chicago etc.) and worse they are in Canada. In a sport where having an elite player (eg. top 5) and another 1 or 2 in the top 50 OR 3 or 4 of the top, say, 40, I have no idea how Toronto is ever going to amass that talent.

mike (in boston)
mike (in boston)
November 1, 2011 8:22 pm

i’ll let others with more knowledge comment in-depth on this, but it just seems that the Raptors seem to go out of their way to do things differently, and the results speak for themselves.

this is another “outside the box” move that bespeaks a kind of organizational incompetence. Danny Ainge isn’t making up executive positions and hiring middling talent to fill them, as far as i know. this is a typical Raptors move under BC … a bit of a head-scratcher with little upside and not much of a downside either.

November 1, 2011 8:41 pm

@ Sam

There is only one chance.

They luck into an elite talent via the draft who happens to be a once in a lifetime egoless superstar like Tim Duncan who enjoys being in Toronto and does not want to head stateside at the end of his rookie deal.

That’s the only way and it’s basically a once in a lifetime scenario.

I don’t think most people realize just how much trouble this team is in and how difficult it will be for any GM to build a championship contender here or in any other small market around the NBA.

November 1, 2011 9:19 pm

I think that the raptors are a great organization, ask any player they will tell you that Toronto is a world class city. I think the belief that the raptors cant get elite talent to play there is over blown, players care about only 2 things: winning, and money. The money is obviously not a problem (Toronto is the 4th largest basketball market in the NBA), once they start winning everyone will jump on the band wagon. I think a lot of people will be surprised by this franchise and how quickly they become a contender.
If they want to spend money on executives that wont count towards the salary cap, then let them, MLSE obviously isnt cash poor.

Raptors Devotee
November 1, 2011 10:22 pm

Good to see some Raptors content in the middle of this lockout, which I hope once settled and we are back to playing ball will somehow level the court and allow us, being a small market team, even though we in reality are not, to be more competitive and someday compete for a title.

Sam is right in the sense that it will be difficult for us to retain the type of talent required to compete, but also keep in mind that under the old systems we were able to re-up both Carter and Bosh before they were traded i.e. given away and left via free agency.

Once the dust settles I fully expect Stern, even though the TV networks and the ratings love the best players congregating in the big markets, to do everything he can to ensure that the small market teams can retain their top talent. If not, we may as well have like they do in England, a Premier League of top teams and a second tier league where the top 3 teams get promoted each year and the bottom three in the NBA get demoted. Obviously this won’t happen, but this is the way it is playing out now in terms of competitiveness.

Small market teams will continue hemorrhaging money under the current system, and with the continued downturn in the U.S. economy it will only get worse if these small market cities fans lose hope completely.

For me, it is not so much the split of the BRI, whether it is 50%/50% or 52.5%/47.5%, it is what can be done to stop elite talent from playing together at the detriment of the small market teams.

As far as Stefanski goes, it is all a big yawn to me. He represents another scapegoat for Colangelo to use at the appropriate time. I would have much preferred a younger, more dynamic addition to the braintrust. Colangelo already has Wayne Embry to lean on, so I’m not sure why when Colangelo is making all the rounds to the other GM’s on a daily basis why he needs someone else.

Call me crazy, but I see Colangelo using this as a means to lobby for Peddie’s job. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but that is the end game IMO. Colangelo will now free up his time to do it and given that he talks MLSE language and represents their corporate philosophy to a tee i.e. working the media, spinning, putting mediocre talent on the court/ice/pitch always looking ahead to next year, he would be a perfect fit.

I have been a Colangelo critic for a long time now, and I vehemently wanted him not to be resigned to a new contract given that strictly based on production alone, he failed abysmally. He inherited a playoff team and after some initial success, screwed it up by counting on Chris Bosh being his franchise player and continually trying annually to revamp almost his entire roster to put a team that would complement his play. This was the wrong approach, since Bosh given the position he plays and his style of play can never be a franchise player, but a complementary player himself.

I called for the trading of Bosh 3 years ago, well before he used us for his own means. We lost the opportunity to trade him at his peak market value. Colangelo screwed up his biggest asset, and for this he got rewarded.

I do not want to be all negative though, as Colangelo of late has made some good moves once he realized that a full rebuild was the only way to go. Jonas Valanciunas looks to be a solid 5th pick in the draft, and watching him play in Europe is the Anti-Bargnani, with his physical play and high motor. He also is parked in Europe, allowing us this year when play resumes to pick up a high draft pick in a monster year with exceptional talent coming out.

Two years ago Ed Davis fell on his lap, and DeRozan also given the 10th pick turned out O.K. as well. Casey being hired, allowing us to actually play and learn defense, was long overdue, and the Triano experiment is finally over.

I am hoping for another tank this year. I want to see lots of lottery balls, so play Bargnani as much as you can and make sure Calderon gets some burn too.

I am patient now because the rebuild is starting to take shape. We need to draft a stud at one of our need positions and the rest should fall into place.

Gerry (Burlington)
Gerry (Burlington)
November 2, 2011 6:23 am

I am under the premise Colangelo is currently on a 2 year deal with the Raptors. I can’t help but wonder if Colangelo is preparing the way for him to move on to another job in the NBA but wants to make sure the Raptors have things in place for him to leave.

I still think his desire is to be the GM/President of a Knicks type organization. I think Colangelo is a good guy, but he doesn’t or hasn’t yet proven to have that Midas touch many thought he would have. Raptors Deveotee has pointed out a few things he could have handled better.

On the other Brian Burke has done nothing but Asst. Gm after Asst. GM, so this could be a model which Teachers Pension is making their GM/Presidents do, so as to ensure if they lose one of their Primtime GM’s they have their bases covered as it relates to running their two expensive franchises.

Gerry (Burlington)
Gerry (Burlington)
November 2, 2011 6:25 am

I didn’t mean Burke has done nothing else, but was trying to stress how many different NHL Executives he has added to his office.

Chef Mike in Burlington
November 2, 2011 11:45 am

When I think of the Raptors….no wait I don’t think of the Raptors…..no really, I give them no thought at all.

Basketball means nothing to me until the playoffs, and since they haven’t seen the playoffs, except on TV, in years, they mean nothing to me.

November 3, 2011 7:37 am

….yawn….Is the strike/lockout/work stoppage over yet?
The NBA could disappear and a majority of Canadians would not really care.

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