THIS WAS FRIDAY night in Cleveland, before the 76ers faced the Cavaliers. Tony DiLeo was sitting with president/general manager Ed Stefanski in the front row of the arena, watching several of the 76ers go through some early drills.
Somebody (OK, it was me) suggested that, as the senior vice president/assistant general manager, DiLeo was sort of Stefanski's Joe Biden. As it turned out, DiLeo was just a heartbeat away, but not from Stefanski.
From Maurice Cheeks.
Less than 18 hours later, DiLeo emerged as the Sixers' coach, succeeding the fired Cheeks.
When his name was called in the pregame introductions before the 104-89 victory over the Washington Wizards, the announced crowd of 15,865 offered a smattering of boos. The greeting, though, seemed to be much more in support of Cheeks, one of the most popular figures in the city's sports history, than anything negative about DiLeo.
He's the fresh voice. If the players aren't changing, history says that's always the next step.
Stefanski decided on DiLeo, who coached extensively in Germany and won awards, but who has been in the Sixers' organization in several capacities - including assistant coach - for 19 years.
Despite what has been speculated elsewhere, there was no immediate call to Eddie Jordan, the deposed Washington Wizards coach. And there was no call to former Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons coach Flip Saunders. Whether Jordan or Saunders or anyone else eventually becomes a viable candidate depends on whatever success DiLeo has, and with that, whether DiLeo remains interested in coaching beyond this season.
"I have not talked to anyone outside the organization," Stefanski said.
A source close to the situation suggested that Stefanski wasn't convinced Jordan, with whom he worked with the New Jersey Nets, was necessarily the right pick for this group. And Stefanski apparently isn't that familiar with Saunders.
But beyond all of that, it appears that Comcast-Spectacor, the Sixers' parent company, wasn't wild about the idea of bringing in a new coach for $3 million to $4 million a season while it was still paying Cheeks for the remainder of this season and next.
Enter DiLeo, who has had a major responsibility in scouting, drafting and otherwise acquiring several of the players on the current roster.
"He knows their weaknesses, he knows their positive attributes," Stefanski said. "He brings a unique perspective, as well as a fresh one."
Stefanski referred to DiLeo, who played at Cinnaminson (N.J.) High, Tennessee Tech, La Salle and overseas, as "a lifer [who] has excelled in every different aspect of this company."
In his first meeting with the players, DiLeo mentioned points of emphasis, including attention to detail, playing a defense that could ignite the fastbreak, and staying consistent.
"We have seen spurts and flashes of how we want to play," he said. "It's just consistency. We know the players can do it. We know they can play defense. We've seen them play defense; we've seen them fastbreak, run early offense. We haven't seen them do it consistently . . . We've had players playing at different levels."
He also is convinced that Elton Brand and Samuel Dalembert can mesh at both ends of the court.
"We have to get them playing together as one," he said. "That comes with time. Offensively and defensively, on paper, they complement each other. We just have to get that on the playing floor . . . Elton can fit into a running game; he's a perfect trailer. He can catch, he can shoot, he can put it on the floor, he can swing, [play] pick-and-roll, post up. Sam is one of the quickest, fastest [big men] running the court."
DiLeo said he felt "comfortable" in his new role.
"Coaching is like managing," he said. "It brought back a lot of feelings I had long ago."
He coached the then-West German men's and women's teams from 1979 to '90, winning nine national championships; he was coach of the year in 1987 and served as the West German national team women's coach from '81 to '85. He took a women's team in Dusseldorf to seven consecutive national titles, placing him and the team in the German Guinness Book of Records for the most consecutive league games without a loss.
With help from his brother, Frank, who played at Lafayette and overseas, he wrote and published the "European Basketball Handbook," a guide to help American players acclimate to life overseas.
Now, he's acclimating on the fly to one of the few NBA roles he hasn't had.
scored a season-high 27 points,
handed out a season-high 12 assists and
matched a season high with 17 rebounds in Saturday's victory. "Regardless of the [coaching] change, we were going to change," Brand said. "We had to make a way. We were going to come out with fire regardless." *