If he could have done some things differently, he would have. If he had known his job depended on the 76ers getting off to a better start, he would have drafted differently, traded differently, perhaps approached free agents differently.
But Billy King didn't know his decadelong tenure was over until a little after 3 p.m. Monday. That was when chairman Ed Snider told him he was being relieved of his duties as president/general manager.
But there had been other times when, had he been able, he would have done things differently. Well before he traded Allen Iverson to the Denver Nuggets for Andre Miller, Joe Smith and two draft choices, he had a chance to deal Iverson for Miller and Marcus Camby.
That, of course, was before the plan to create salary-cap space for this summer was in place. Miller and Camby would have provided two legitimate starters at key positions, keeping the Sixers competitive and in the playoff picture.
King never said it publicly, but he had to back off because he had been alerted that Comcast-Spectacor was considering selling the team. All he said was that he didn't want to take on two significant multiyear contracts.
But the Sixers were 5-12 going into last night's game against the Boston Celtics, and had lost 10 of their last 13. Attendance was significantly down. Interest was perilously low. King was out. Eddie Stefanski, leaving his job as general manager of the New Jersey Nets, was in.
"I don't look at it as [being the] fall guy," King said yesterday, meeting with reporters in a quiet upstairs room of The Palm, one of his favorite haunts. "They had a decision to make . . . I don't regret rebuilding. I think it was the right thing to do."
King handled his departure with class and dignity, without so much as a trace of animosity. If anything, he felt a sense of relief. He had already spoken at length with Donnie Walsh, the Indiana Pacers executive who had served as a mentor, and with commissioner David Stern. He had meetings set up for the near future, but for now his schedule was wide open.
"Actually, I'm a full-time nanny now," he said, smiling in the direction of his wife, Melanie. "It's kind of great."
He wasn't planning to attend last night's game. He and Melanie, he said, were going to the movies. Before they left, he was willing to deal with a few cogent aspects of the Sixers future, including:
Larry Brown, currently serving as executive vice president:
"That will be a decision [Stefanski) and Larry have to make. He definitely wants [to coach]. Somebody would be smart to have him because he is one of the best coaches in the league, despite what happened in New York. He is one of the best. He's a coach, like Joe Paterno and those guys. When you're a lifer, you're a coach, that's what you do. When you do it as well as Larry, that's what you do."
Maurice Cheeks, in the final season of his contract:
"When I let him know [about being fired], he was devastated. He felt, 'You brought me here to do a job and I didn't do it for you.' Mo has been in a difficult situation, when you trade a franchise player, and I think he did a great job of keeping the team together. Most teams in that situation, they just give up on a coach." *