76ers fire coach Maurice Cheeks

December 13, 2008 8:35:49 PM PST
The 76ers signed Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala to $80 million deals in the offseason and gave another $25 million to Louis Williams because they believed they could contend in the East. CLICK HERE TO READ WHAT VIEWERS HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THE FIRING OF MAURICE CHEEKS. When the blossoming Sixers nucleus stumbled to start the season, it was Maurice Cheeks who paid the price.

Cheeks was fired Saturday in his fourth year as coach of the Sixers, who are slumping at 9-14 a season after making the playoffs. Assistant general manager Tony DiLeo was appointed coach for rest of 2008-09.

The dismissal came hours before the 76ers were to play at home, with DiLeo making his coaching debut against Washington. The hasty move caught the Sixers by surprise.

"They want to win and win now," Brand said.

Team president Ed Stefanski said he fired Cheeks because the 76ers were not successfully running the fast-break, up-tempo style of play they used at the end of last season to make the playoffs. The Sixers' slogan is "Run With Us." When they couldn't, Cheeks was run out of town.

"I felt we were not progressing the way we had wanted to progress," Stefanski said. "I didn't feel on the floor we were executing the philosophy we wanted to have as Sixers basketball."

Cheeks became the fifth NBA coach fired this season following P.J. Carlesimo (Oklahoma City), Eddie Jordan (Washington), Sam Mitchell (Toronto) and Randy Wittman (Minnesota).

Cheeks was one of the most popular players in 76ers history and led them to the NBA title in 1983. He was part of Larry Brown's staff when the Sixers went to the NBA finals in 2001 and, after a head coaching stint at Portland, returned to Philadelphia in 2005.

He never had a winning record (122-152) in three-plus seasons and the Sixers were eliminated last season in the first round by Detroit. After an 18-30 start, Philadelphia won 18 of its next 23 games and wound up at 40-42, the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.

The strong finish and Brand's free-agent acquisition sent expectations soaring in Philadelphia. The 76ers anticipated a deep run in the playoffs this season.

Stefanski rewarded Cheeks with two contract extensions in seven months that would have taken him to the end of next season. Instead, with the team on a three-game losing streak and last in the Atlantic Division, he didn't even last until the end of the calendar year. The Sixers have lost eight of 10 entering Saturday.

"I knew something would happen because of the high expectations, but I didn't think it would happen that fast," Brand said.

A message left on Cheeks' cell phone was not immediately returned.

"It takes time and I'm sad, because he did a phenomenal job last year," Brown said.

The Sixers made a surprise choice skipping assistants like Jim Lynam for DiLeo, a New Jersey native who played at La Salle. He played and coached in West Germany for 10 seasons before joining the Sixers in 1990-91. He had a brief stint as an assistant in the early '90s, but hasn't been in an NBA huddle in more than a decade.

"Once you're a coach, you're always a coach. That doesn't concern me at all," said chairman Ed Snider.

There were a smattering of boos when DiLeo was introduced before the Washington game.

DiLeo was promoted to senior vice president/assistant general manager in 2003 and has been a steady presence at practices.

He believes if the Sixers can stretch that fun and fast-breaking style over the rest of the season, they can race up the Eastern Conference standings.

"I have seen flashes, quarters or halves of this, but we have to do it more consistently," DiLeo said. "We want to play at more of an up-tempo pace."

Brand's arrival has been a popular target for their slide this season. His numbers (15.9 points, 10 rebounds) are off his career averages, and the Sixers play slower when he's on the court. Iguodala hasn't adjusted making the move from small forward to 2 guard, Samuel Dalembert has struggled on the weakside and seen his numbers drop, and the Sixers still don't have a legitimate 3-point threat.

"Elton can fit into a running game," DiLeo said. "He's a perfect trailer. He can catch, he can shoot, he can put it on the floor. ... If you're looking for an ideal trailer, he's an ideal trailer."

Cheeks played 15 seasons in the NBA, the first 11 with Philadelphia, and retired in 1993. An outstanding defensive player, Cheeks played in four All-Star games and his No. 10 jersey hangs in the rafters.

At the press conference to announce his hiring, former Sixers guard Allen Iverson said, "If you got a problem with Mo Cheeks, there must be something wrong with you." Iverson - who has feuded with many of his coaches - would have a bitter falling out with Cheeks and was eventually traded to Denver. The 1-2 combination of Iverson and Chris Webber also was a bust in Cheeks' first season.

They're all gone and now so is Cheeks.

"I believe in this team, we are better than this and we are going to make it better," Stefanski said. "We will find a way to improve on this team."

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AP Sports Writer Mike Cranston contributed to this report from Charlotte, N.C.

CLICK HERE TO READ WHAT VIEWERS HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THE FIRING OF MAURICE CHEEKS.


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