The mood of the 76ers yesterday resembled that in so many postgame locker rooms during this 5-12 season.
While management was trumpeting the hiring of New Jersey Nets general manager Ed Stefanski as president and general manager, the Sixers seemed to take the news that Billy King was fired from both positions very hard.
King, who has been with the team since 1997, was popular among the players.
"Obviously, he did a lot for me, and I owe him a lot. So to see him go is tough for me," swingman Kyle Korver said after yesterday's practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. "But the more I am here, the more I learn that this is a business."
Like Korver, guard Willie Green was an unheralded player drafted by King in the second round. Now Green and Korver are in their fifth NBA seasons.
"I have a special feeling for Billy cause he gave me an opportunity to come into this league and fulfill my dreams," Green said. "Any time you are given an opportunity, you feel bad when that person is let go."
Green said that the players could not dwell on King's departure.
"We understand we're professionals and these things can happen," he said. "You just try to move on."
Coach Maurice Cheeks, whose status is tenuous because he's in the last year of his contract, appeared visibly shaken.
"I'm pretty sad about it because Billy brought me here and did a lot of good for me and was very supportive in what I was trying to do," Cheeks said. "It's a sad day. I'm very sensitive to anybody losing their job."
Tony DiLeo, the Sixers' senior vice president/assistant general manager, is in his 18th season with the team, so he has seen his share of firings. DiLeo said he had mixed emotions about the series of events.
"I've been with Billy for 10-plus years, so it's a tough time," DiLeo said. "On the other side, I know Ed Stefanski and think he will do a great job and am optimistic for our future."
DiLeo said one of the positives in having Stefanski come in is that he provides a different set of eyes to evaluate talent.
"Sometimes we are inside and maybe people on the outside see differently and have different ideas and maybe he'll have different ideas, philosophy and approaches," DiLeo said.
Most of the players said they knew little of Stefanski, but that will change. Stefanski said yesterday he planned to meet individually with each of the players.
Nets president Rod Thorn, whom Stefanski described as a mentor, said the Sixers would enjoy the way their new president and general manager interacts with others.
"Ed has a way about him of making everybody feel comfortable," Thorn said yesterday in a phone interview. "He really works well with others."
Now that King is gone, Cheeks will be the subject of speculation concerning his job status.
"I try to go out every day and control what I can control and try to get our team better," Cheeks said. "That is basically all I can do."
And the players have to have that attitude.
"Our main focus is not to get caught up in this," swingman Andre Iguodala said. "We just have to go out and play ball."