One day after being fired as the 76ers president and general manager, Billy King made a graceful exit.

Choosing to head down that difficult high road, King praised the man who gave him the pink slip, Sixers chairman Ed Snider, thanked the fans, and even made nice with the media.

King held a news conference yesterday at the Palm Restaurant in Philadelphia. He said he felt an obligation to speak to the media and in turn to the fans.

"I felt I owed it to [the media] because you guys were fair to me, and I felt I owed it to the fans," he said. "Whether they liked me or not, I felt I owed it to them to have a response and answer the questions."

And there were plenty of questions.

King did express surprise at the timing of the firing, especially since the Sixers were supposed to be in a rebuilding mode.

"When the team doesn't play well and is struggling, it always is a possibility," King said of his firing. "No, I didn't [have any idea it was coming]. The timing of it was a surprise more than anything."

So, with the team struggling on the court and to attract fans, Snider decided to sever ties with King, who was in the last year of his contract.

"Would I like to get the chance to see the process through? Yes," King said. "But ultimately they made a decision."

Had he known that he would have been judged on the team's early record, King said he would have done things differently.

"I may have been a little more aggressive," he said, in referring to both the team's draft and the signing of free agents.

The Sixers drafted 19-year-old Thaddeus Young, who King realized would need time to mature as a player. During the summer, the Sixers also decided not to sign their own free agent Joe Smith.

The absence of Smith as an offensive threat at power forward has hurt the Sixers this season.

Still, King refused to bash his former employers.

"I don't look at this as being the fall guy," King said. "I look at it as they had a decision to make."

Even though the Sixers entered last night's game against the Boston Celtics with a 5-12 record, King said that the team was on the right course. With enough cap room to attract a free agent this off-season, plus another likely high first-round pick, King was optimistic about the team.

"Honestly, I thought next year with a good free-agent class, we could be a playoff team," he said. "And I thought the following year we could be a team that could go deeper in the playoffs."

The players and coach Maurice Cheeks were visibly shaken by the news of King's firing on Tuesday, and King had advice for Cheeks and the players on how to handle the situation.

"I said, 'You will be working for a good guy, Ed Stefanski, a great guy,' " King said. "I told them, 'Don't let this affect what you will do.' "

Cheeks wasn't surprised at King's final words.

"To tell us to go on and keep moving forward, that is the way he is as a person and as an executive," Cheeks said. "To go out there and try to do things correctly and do the best you can, and that is exactly what he did."

King said he would weigh his options, talking to people such as NBA commissioner David Stern; his college coach at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski; and others.

"Right now I'm not on the treadmill," King said.