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Cheeks, Sixers players stunned, but try to stay focused

As Maurice Cheeks addressed the media yesterday near center court after the Sixers' practice at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, the expression of shock was still visible.

As Maurice Cheeks addressed the media yesterday near center court after the Sixers' practice at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, the expression of shock was still visible.

Less than 18 hours before, he had been informed privately that Billy King no longer would be his boss. Yesterday, Ed Stefanski was introduced as the Sixers' president and general manager.

Now, the question is, how much time remains on Cheeks' clock?

Cheeks, who is in the final season of his contract, told reporters that while he had talked to Stefanski only briefly, he received no assurance that his job was safe.

"I don't have an answer to why it happened. That's not my position," Cheeks said, when asked about King's firing.

"It happened, and now we have to move on. The only thing I can do is try to go out there every day and control what I can control, and that's trying to get our team better. That's basically all I can do."

Cheeks, who was hired by King in 2005 after three-plus seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers, said he hadn't talked to his former employer, but was saddened by the sudden change.

"Any time someone loses their job, it's a tough situation," Cheeks said.

This means there could be more tough times coming. Stefanski, a known risk-taker throughout the NBA, made it clear yesterday that everyone is under the microscope, from the head coach to the 12th man.

"I am evaluating top to bottom," Stefanski said. "I will talk to everyone and make evaluations as I go forward."

Shortly after his news conference at the Wachovia Center, Stefanski made his way to PCOM to meet briefly with the players and coaches. Most of the players also were shocked when they heard the news, but insisted that they were ready to put it behind them and move on.

Willie Green, who was acquired by the Sixers in a draft-night trade in 2003, said he talked to King just before practice yesterday morning. While he acknowledged he was stunned by the news, he said King reminded him that everything was a business.

"You always have to keep that in the back of your mind," Green said. "In this organization, this business, this world . . . anything can happen. You just have to be professional about everything. Obviously, there are going to be some things that are going to shake up around here, but hopefully that means we can move forward and try to get some wins."

Green said the players felt a sense of guilt knowing that they probably could have spared King his job had they not achieved a below-standard 5-12 record this season.

"We're playing decent basketball, just coming up a little short," he said. "We do have to play with a little sense of urgency now, not to prove what we can do to anyone else, but because of our own competitive nature."

Tony DiLeo, senior vice president of basketball operations and assistant general manager, had mixed emotions about the firing of King, with whom he worked for 10-plus years. But he was "optimistic for the team's future" under Stefanski's guidance.

DiLeo has known Stefanski for more than 25 years, from their Big 5 playing days in the mid-'70s (Stefanski at Penn, DiLeo at La Salle) and scouting connections. He described Stefanski as a good talent evaluator, with a good mind for basketball and business.

Kyle Korver was drafted by Stefanski and the New Jersey Nets with the 51st overall pick in 2003, then dealt later that night to the Sixers for cash. Korver said he was pleased when his agent, Jeff Schwartz, who also represents Nets point guard Jason Kidd, told him Stefanski was a straight shooter and a risk-taker.

"Risks are risks," Korver said. "They could be good. They could be bad. Who knows? Hopefully, they can be good, if he decides to take those. Whatever it is, I don't get much say in the matter. I just go out and play." *