TORONTO - Bryan Colangelo has a new right-hand man.
The Toronto Raptors president and GM unveiled veteran NBA executive Ed Stefanski as the team's executive vice-president of basketball operations Thursday. And Colangelo left little doubt about Stefanski's position in the team's front-office hierarchy.
"Yes, he would be a second in command," Colangelo said during a news conference at Air Canada Centre. "This is a true second-in-command position.
"All those things that go into making decisions on draft-related matters, trade-related matters ... that scouting process, organization and oversight is something I think needs to be handled by someone with Ed's experience. Certainly he's the right guy to do that."
Stefanski said his main strength is concentrating on the positives while working diligently to fix any problems that exist.
"My motto is to accentuate the positive and work on the negatives," he said. "It's never the end of the world for me, I'm even-keeled, I don't get too high or low.
"I plan things, I'm a big whiteboard guy putting my ideas up there, and I think executing a plan is the crucial part. Once you've executed the plan no one knows what the results are and that's what you get graded on."
Stefanski joins a revamped Raptors front office. Maurizio Gherardini, the club's senior vice-president at the start of last season, and senior director of scouting Jim Kelly both remain but will handle different duties this year. Former head coach Jay Triano is now a consultant to Colangelo, while Marc Eversley remains as Toronto's assistant general manager.
The Raptors also hired a new head coach in former Dallas assistant Dwane Casey this off-season but never filled the vacancy created when global scouting director Masai Ujiri left to become the Denver Nuggets' executive vice-president of basketball operations. Stefanski will definitely provide a strong voice in Toronto's front office, but Colangelo, who recently signed a two-year contract extension (with an option for a third), will continue to have the final say on any moves.
Stefanski, who was a 10th-round pick by Philadelphia in 1976, comes to Toronto with a wealth of NBA experience, having served as a GM for both the New Jersey Nets and the 76ers. And he certainly showed a sense of humour when discussing his new post.
"In New Jersey I was second-in-command to Rod Thorn for about eight years then was the president in Philadelphia so I know both roles and feel comfortable with both," he said. "If you haven't sat in that seat (GM) and had to make that final decision, it's interesting.
"So when we do all good things, it will be 'I did it' and the bad things, it's Bryan's fault. I respect Bryan, he's a very very intelligent guy and a GQ dresser but I will offset that."
Stefanski was fired as the 76ers GM last week following four seasons after Joshua Harris purchased the franchise. Stefanski's departure came despite his hiring head coach Doug Collins, who led Philadelphia to the playoffs last season.
Stefanski also had a role in one of the biggest trades in Raptors history. In 2004, Toronto dealt superstar forward Vince Carter to New Jersey for Alonzo Mourning, Eric Williams, Aaron Williams and two first-round draft picks. Carter went on to have three all-star seasons with the Nets, leading them to six-game upset of third-seeded Toronto in the '07 NBA playoffs.
Colangelo raised eyebrows Thursday when he said Stefanski's hiring was part of a "succession" plan, prompting the immediate thought he had hired his eventual successor. Afterwards, Colangelo said he has no immediate plans to leave his current post and added he's simply following the management plan outlined by Toronto Maple Leafs' GM Brian Burke, whose front-office staff includes former GMs Dave Nonis, Rick Dudley and Cliff Fletcher.
"Succession planning is key in any large organization, especially one as extensive and detailed as this," Colangelo said. "Brian has done an unbelievable job in the Leafs' structure to have three or four guys who have had that kind of experience and we're doing that same thing.
"Whether or not Ed ultimately succeeds me is an unknown but at least I've got a guy with certainty that's been there and done it and I would feel good handing the situation over to. But the last time I checked, I'm not going anywhere."
Trouble is, with the NBA and is players embroiled in a labour dispute, it's not know when Stefanski will be able to begin putting his stamp on a club that finished with a dismal 22-60 record and missed the playoffs for a third straight season.
In fact, the Raptors have been to the playoffs only five times during their 16-year existence and past the opening round just once.
Stefanski echoed Colangelo's sentiments that Toronto has a rebuilding plan firmly in place but neither would put a timeline on when the Raptors might return to the playoffs. However, Stefanski said the dynamics of basketball can sometimes make for a much quicker progression than originally anticipated.
"In basketball it's only five guys you're putting on the floor and if you get lucky — and when I say lucky things have go fortunate — and get a couple of players on the court who can change the tide and make the other players better," he said. "It's exciting coming here and I think just a couple of positions need to filled and the younger players have to improve.
"Not putting a lot of pressure on Dwane and the coaching staff, but these guys have to get on the court after practice, before practice and make themselves better basketball players."