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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