King says Cheeks will return to coach Philly next year

Updated: March 9, 2007, 11:17 PM ET
Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- Ending speculation that Larry Brown would again coach the Philadelphia 76ers, team president Billy King said on Friday that Maurice Cheeks would return next year for a third season.

"I think under these circumstances, he's done a good job," King said before the Sixers played the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Sixers (23-38) hoped to contend for an Eastern Conference playoff spot this season before chemistry problems and a slow start derailed the franchise. Former MVP Allen Iverson clashed with the mild-mannered Cheeks and was eventually traded to Denver, and unhappy forward Chris Webber had his contract bought out.

With the two biggest distractions gone, the Sixers started playing better. They won their season-high sixth-straight game on Friday against the Lakers, the longest active streak in the Eastern Conference, and have won seven straight at home.

"I'm excited about that," Cheeks said. "I'm pleased about that, but my job is to get better night in and night out."

King said he told Cheeks, who went 38-44 last season, that he would return earlier this week.

"I almost didn't really feel like I needed to, because we were always talking about this summer and planning like we normally have," King said. "But I thought with all the things being written, I probably should tell him, 'Hey, you are going to be the coach."'

It won't be Brown. Brown returned to the organization in January as executive vice president, sparking rumors that he would return to coach the franchise he led to the NBA finals in 2001. There was even talk that Brown's frequent appearances at Villanova games meant he was looking at Jay Wright as a possible candidate.

King diffused those rumors.

"I talk to Maurice every time one of those stories came out," he said. "I'd say, 'Mo, you're doing a great job. Keep doing your job.' Larry has been a great friend and he's still a great friend, but he was never brought in to take over the team."

Cheeks was an All-Star point guard who led the Sixers to the 1983 NBA championship. His retired No. 10 hangs in the rafters and he returned to Philadelphia before last season after 3 tumultuous years coaching Portland.

"A lot of people have written that the bottom was going to fall out with everything that happened, and he kept this group playing hard, focused and upbeat," King said. "Really, it's a joy watching us play now."

Cheeks remained steady and optimistic, even as the Sixers got off to an 11-30 start. He never publicly scolded his young team and told them to tune out talk about lottery picks and lousy records.

"Oh man, this guy again," joked center Samuel Dalembert. "I have to give him credit, he never gave up on us. He kept staying positive."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press