PORTLAND, Ore. - This is Eddie Stefanski's 76ers debut. The honeymoon is over. Never mind all the handshakes, all the meetings with the players, the coaches, the chairman, the marketing staff, the public and community relations staffs. This, trading Kyle Korver to the Utah Jazz for the expiring contract of guard Gordan Giricek and a future first-round draft choice, is his first true stamp on the franchise.
Never mind that Stefanski isn't thinking that way at all.
"I just feel like I was doing my job,'' he was saying before yesterday's 97-72 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
On the surface, Stefanski appears to have done marvelously well. If he chooses not to re-sign Giricek, he can have roughly $10 million of salary-cap space this summer, an asset with which he will have some real flexibility to wheel and deal in the free-agency and trade markets. At this point, no NBA team has more potential space.
The draft choice becomes viable starting in 2009 and can be used at any time through 2014, with different levels of protection during each of those seasons. The pick is not the one the Jazz acquired from the New York Knicks; it essentially will fall somewhere between No. 16 and No. 30.
The salaries were an easy match, with Giricek at $4 million and Korver at $4.4 million. The Jazz is now responsible for the two remaining guaranteed seasons on Korver's contract: $4,781,818 and $5,163,636; he can opt out of the final season.
Stefanski has made no commitment to Giricek, either in terms of a possible new deal or in playing time.
"Going forward, we'll both know if [Giricek] is a guy we want to keep,'' he said.
He also said, "We have to do more things, to add more pieces to the puzzle . . . How much more we do depends on how we're playing and how much interest other teams have.''
The Sixers, after a struggling start, had won 8 of 11 overall and four of five on the road when the deal went down Saturday.
"I'm all ears,'' Stefanski said. "We do have chips people like.''
Whether this move has any immediate effect on the Sixers' success is far less significant than what it can mean for the future. And, make no mistake, the future is just beginning; it's likely that Stefanski will pull the trigger again before the Feb. 19 trading deadline.
Korver, in the midst of his fifth season, understood the cold, harsh business aspect as much as anyone. When recent speculation was rampant about the possible trade of Sixers point guard Andre Miller to the Miami Heat, a source familiar with the discussions indicated that the Heat had a higher level of interest in Korver, a crack three-point shooter and last season's league leader in free-throw accuracy.
Giricek, 30, and Korver, 26, are different types of players. Giricek, in his sixth season in the league, has more of a midrange and slashing game; a veteran scout compared him, at least in style, to the Detroit Pistons' Rip Hamilton. Giricek, a career 9.8 scorer, was averaging just 4.3 in 22 games of a diminished role this season. Interestingly, the Sixers had had interest in him as far back as when Larry Brown was coaching; he was a member of the Croatian National Team that won the 2005 European Championship, and was a four-time Croatian All-Star and a two-time All-Star MVP.
This, then, became a convergence of circumstances. The Sixers were looking for cap relief and assets for the future. The Jazz needed a way to end the deteriorating relationship between Giricek and coach Jerry Sloan. The two had a heated exchange during a Dec. 19 game in Charlotte, at the end of which Sloan banished Giricek to the locker room, then sent him home for 3 days. He never again played for the team.
Korver played 30:30 in the Sixers' 92-80 victory last Friday night in Sacramento, then traveled with them afterward to Portland, ostensibly to prepare for yesterday's game against the Trail Blazers. He was blissfully unaware that the deal had been in the works for about 2 weeks, that it had gotten close to being finalized sometime Friday. It was completed early Saturday morning.
He was asleep in his hotel room just off the shores of Lake Willamette when his cell phone and room phone almost simultaneously jangled him awake.
"It was [agent Jeff Schwartz],'' Korver said. "When I heard his voice, I knew I had been traded. I said, 'Where am I going?' ''
The answer turned out to be Salt Lake City, where the Sixers visit Wednesday night on the fourth leg of their six-game Western swing.
"I feel mixed emotions,'' he said. "Philadelphia means a lot to me. The Sixers mean a lot to me. It's where I got my shot, where I had some great relationships, some great friendships. But I believe you find out who you really are in tough times. That's how I've found myself. The Sixers, I believe, are on the way up; we went through tough times together, and I would have liked to see it through.
"It's funny, my agent had told me about a few teams that had interest, but Utah wasn't on my radar. It's not that anyone on the team was nervous; you don't know what's going to happen, but everyone knew something would happen. It turned out that I was part of it.'' *