This is the question every 76ers fan wants to hear from Ed Stefanski, now that he has the team's fortunes in his 53-year-old hands. The remnants of Sixers Nation will not rest until they have an answer to this most basic of inquiries:

What's the deal with these sub-prime loans?

"Wall Street," the former mortgage banker explains, "wants to cut everything down to zero. There may be 50, 60 percent of loans in a package that are good. Wall Street doesn't care."

Stefanski's past may well serve as prologue for how he will run the 76ers. He will have to be as cold as a loan officer denying a grandmother a 2 percenter as he begins this overhaul.

He will have to look a lot of these hardworking, well-meaning, causing-no-trouble players on the roster in the eye and tell them to get lost. He will probably have to send a classy coach in Maurice Cheeks packing. He has a mandate to make whatever changes he deems necessary to make this franchise matter again, and that is never a delicate business.

But it has to be done.

Stefanski's model for building a championship-level team, he says, is Detroit. It took the Pistons four years to deconstruct the playoff team they'd built around Grant Hill and construct a title team around low-post defense and suffocating perimeter pressure.

It took Utah four years to rebuild after the John Stockton-Karl Malone era ended, and that probably wouldn't have happened if Utah's first point guard of the future, Raul Lopez, hadn't shredded his knee twice.

It took the post-Jordan Bulls six years and three separate rebuilds (the Elton Brand-Ron Artest version gave way to the Eddy Curry-Tyson Chandler team, which was turned into the Kirk Hinrich-Ben Gordon-Luol Deng group) to get back into title contention - and that team has started this season 4-12.

Nor is a quick rebuilding a la Boston realistic.

It is a long, slow slog that Stefanski started last night when he watched the Sixers do the same thing they did under Billy King - compete for three quarters, lose in the fourth.

"I think we're athletic," Stefanski said before the Celtics improved to 15-2 with their 113-103 win over the 76ers.

"The style we'll have to play is an athletic type of style," Stefanski said. "In order to bolster things, you want to bring in more athleticism. . . . Just looking at it quickly, I like that we're athletic, and maybe we should get

real

athletic."

But everyone wants to run. The Sixers can't defend well enough to be able to get up and down the floor, and they don't shoot it well enough once they get past half-court.

So where does Stefanski begin?

The Andre Miller who played last night against the Celtics would be in demand throughout the league, and it doesn't take much imagination to see Stefanski's first significant deal being to move the veteran point guard (with, maybe, Kyle Korver) for the best young,

real

athletic power forward that Stefanski thinks would help ease the burden on Samuel Dalembert.

Does such a player exist? Well, Shawn Marion plays power forward out West despite being only 6-foot-8. (No, the Suns have no need for Miller, with that Steve Nash fellow playing pretty well. No, I wouldn't give Marion the max contract he certainly will be seeking. But would I do everything but move down to Peachtree Street to get Josh Smith up here from Atlanta? You betcha.)

Stefanski's belief in athleticism is good news for Rodney Carney and Thaddeus Young, who will get every opportunity to show they belong in the rotation. And Stefanski scouted Jason Smith at Colorado before the draft and liked him.

And he says he has every belief that the Snider-Luukko administration, backed by Comcast, will give him the green light this summer if he sees a must-have free agent, or wants to use that expected, franchise-altering cap room to swing a deal for a big-ticket player.

"If there is a player out there of a big magnitude, in my heart, Ed Snider will want to win basketball games," Stefanski said. "Now, our goal is not to spend money just for the sake of spending and just run it up, and take our chances with every midlevel player every year. We're not going to do that. But if there is a blockbuster trade that we can make, I have no doubt that he would be positive on it."

The first two days back home have been heady ones, giddy ones, for Stefanski. He hasn't really slept. He's smiling from ear to ear. And why would he? He's gotten married to the team of his dreams.

The marriage starts this morning.

Contact staff writer David Aldridge at 215-854-5516 or daldridge@phillynews.com.