Deconstructing the 76ers

Ed Stefanski and the Sixers announced Thursday that coach Eddie Jordan will not return next season. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)

Eddie Jordan is no longer the head coach of the 76ers.

At this point, if you follow this team, we've dissected everything that went wrong with Jordan and the Sixers this season: an ill-suited offense, bad rotations, player confusion, lack of discipline, lack of leadership.

If you followed the team, you watched the end product: a 27-55 record.

Now, that chapter of the book is closed.

Listening to President and General Manager Ed Stefanski's press conference this morning at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine was an interesting experience because of his tenuous grip on his own job.

Let's address the next step of this equation, the step before the question of exactly who will replace Jordan as Sixers head coach. The next step is: Should Stefanski be allowed to select this franchise's next head coach? Will Stefanski be allowed to? Or is he only a couple of weeks from joining Jordan? 

As of this moment, according to a source close to Stefanski, he is operating in his same capacity as GM and, right now, he will begin this coaching search with the same authority he had a year ago. That could change.

This morning, Stefanski very quickly admitted Jordan's hiring was a mistake. Very early in the press conference he said the following: "Obviously what I thought would happen did not occur and the decision was not a right one and that’s why I made the choice to go now in a different direction to get someone here to get us on that right path."

I think the main frustration Sixers' fans have with Jordan's hiring was that they, quite easily and early, saw the inherent flaws in the logic of hiring Jordan. You can't bring in an offensive coach to coach a team known for running and defense. You can't bring in the Princeton Offense with a group of players who rely more on one-on-one and pick-and-rolls than thinking the game. You can't bring in a coach with a losing record if you want the fans of this city to be excited about the future. Those were the complaints, from the beginning, from the first second Jordan's name surfaced as an option. And I'm certain there are thousands of fans who feel that if they could predict the problems with Jordan's hiring, then the General Manager of their team certainly should have seen these problems as well.

If he couldn't, then what's the point? 

Here's what Stefanski said about the failed attempt: "Obviously it didn’t work. We went through in the interview process all the personnel and what we had and the coach felt it would work. As I said earlier, we were looking, because of the last two years in the playoffs, we were looking for that balance. And I felt it was efficiency in the half court."

First, Stefanski clearly said "the coach felt it would work," which felt a little like a shifting of blame, almost as if separating himself from the disaster of his own coaching decision. It was only about 8 months ago that Stefanski was selling the Princeton Offense hardcore, explaining how Thaddeus Young and Marreese Speights would be wheeling and dealing. That was only 8 months ago.

Second, I think some Sixers fans are frustrated because Stefanski made the same mistake, twice. The Sixers were excelling by scrapping, clawing, playing tough defense, getting steals, getting early dunks, running up and down, dunking over people. And then Stefanski signed Elton Brand with the logic that all of those aforementioned qualities would somehow, magically, be unaffected by Brand's more plodding, forceful, slow, halfcourt presence. He signed Brand under the logic that Brand would only add a different dimension -- the half-court game -- but somehow wouldn't affect the other dimension -- the up in your face defense and fastbreaking. It didn't work. Very quickly, it became clear that Brand's presence was slowing the team down. There were times his scoring in the halfcourt helped, but it was always like trading one for the other, never having that magical blending of both. It was oil and water. Stefanski's next big decision (the Andre Iguodala contract is overpriced, but people around the league are willing to take that contract; he's an asset) was hiring Jordan. Again, Stefanski employed the same logic: he said his team excelled in fastbreaking and defense, so he brought in a guru of a half-court offense, Jordan, and assumed that his team would somehow continue to excel at fastbreaking and defense despite spending 75 percent of its practice time learning an intricate half-court offense. Again, the Sixers sacrificed one dimension, a dimension in which they are talented, for the sake of improving another dimension. 

Same mistake. Twice. In two years.

The results are a 27-55 season and a contract to Elton Brand that's going to haunt them for some time. Twice, it seemed, Stefanski passed on an opportunity to press the gas on the Sixers' ability to run and instead saddled them with an anchor. It's not that the thought process doesn't, on paper, make sense: Sixers are weak in the half-court, get a half-court player. I think the frustration comes down to seeing it play out, in back-to-back situations.

Of course, no one is saying this stuff isn't complicated. Obviously, Stefanski is trying to make the best decisions possible and it's easy to sit here and deconstruct why it didn't work. But that's our job and his is to make the right decisions, not every time, but at least a little more than half of the time.

He's made a number of good decisions: signing Lou Williams to a reasonable contract, drafting Jrue Holiday, (the jury is still out on Marreese Speights), trading for Meeks could turn out to be a nice little addition, and please feel free to toss in any others you can think of.

But these are like ground-ball singles in the third inning compared to Brand and Jordan, which were back-to-back strikeouts with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. (Baseball analogy!)

Holiday is very good, of course. We've been writing about him for some time, but all of a sudden it feels a little like Stefanski and Tony DiLeo are pinning a lot of their hopes on the 19-year-old. Feels like a tough situation for the kid. Stefanski said in his press conference that the team has found their "point guard of the future," and it felt like a reminder about the solid decision he made in drafting Holiday. And it was a solid decision.

But does Holiday's development justify allowing Andre Miller to sign elsewhere? To fill a locker room with a collection of non-leaders and then watch in amazement as they collapse under a lack of leadership? 

This morning, Stefanski said:  "I believe a head coach has to be a manager, a teacher, a motivater. Those are three qualities I would say I’d look for right away. When I got here with these players, where we’re built is we’re built to play on that defensive end and get out on the fast break. That’s basically who we’re made up to be."

So ... back to the question: Why should Sixers fans trust Stefanski to make this decision? I don't know if they do. And if some of them still do, then it's probably a case of trust and understanding more than logical thinking, which is what Stefanski needs at this point. He needs Sixers fans to have faith (believing in the unseen, right?).

Because so far, they haven't seen it.