THIS SHOULD NOT come as a revelation, but I don't believe

Maurice Cheeks

will coach the 76ers next season.

I am not advocating that. I don't want that. But it is Eddie Stefanski's prerogative as the new president/general manager to put his own team in place. That is what he should do, and what he will do.

At this point, I have no idea who will be on Stefanski's team. I'm not sure he does, either. It's way too soon. And, unlike many situations in pro sports, a change would not be about Cheeks doing a poor job or losing the team or being overwhelmed by circumstances.

In this case, the opposite is true.

Cheeks, one of the most popular and generally beloved adopted favorite sons in Philadelphia sports history, never really had the opportunity to fully coach the Sixers until Allen Iverson was traded and Chris Webber was bought out. Once those two things occurred, he had the complete attention of the remaining players. They all - players and coach - wanted to prove they belonged and could compete in a conventional team-oriented system.

You can say that their 17-9 finish last season was skewed by too many opponents who either weren't as interested in winning or were far more interested in getting a more favorable position in the lottery, but it was the groundwork that needed to be done. That there appears to have been little carryover into this season is more a function of the lack of immediate help.

I understand that was the plan, to create salary-cap space for the summer and give them the flexibility to have a strong voice in the free-agent and trade markets, but I think ownership badly misjudged how the fans would react to a full season that, at best, promised 30 victories. After Wednesday night's game in the Wachovia Center, Minnesota Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman told reporters, "The arena was kind of dead, and that's how we played."

For the first time since the drafting of Iverson, there is no player on the roster who has ever been in an All-Star Game. That there is no singular star is OK, but there isn't even a high-profile rookie. First-rounders Thaddeus Young and Jason Smith could be valuable pieces later on, but are hardly centerpieces of the moment.

Ownership and the Billy King management team were willing to be patient, but the fans were not. Everyone said the lifeless atmosphere in the arena (it has, buoyed by winning, been better lately) wasn't a factor in the firing of King and the hiring of Stefanski, but I think it was. I think ownership finally decided a shot of adrenaline was the way to go, even if the personnel didn't immediately change.

Ownership has said that it never lost belief or confidence in King's three-tier plan to rebuild the franchise, but that it felt comfortable with someone else, viewing it through fresh eyes and incorporating fresh ideas, coming in to take it the remaining steps.

All I'll say is: If there indeed is a new coach next season, please don't look back and minimize the work Cheeks has done. He has gotten this group to play hard just about every night. He has been open to suggestions, ways to improve. He has had the players' backs, never publicly criticizing them, and they have given him what they have.

The problem is, they don't have enough.

I think it's fair to say Cheeks, or whoever coaches next season, will have significantly more.

Living a dream

Sixers TV play-by-play voice

Marc Zumoff

will call his 1,000th regular-season game Dec. 21 against the Los Angeles Lakers.

"It's become a long-running joke, but the fact is, my own self-concept has never changed," he said. "I'm still the chubby kid growing up in Northeast Philly, announcing stickball games and keeping stats for the older kids who wouldn't let me play; the kid who wasn't good enough to play sports. So I'd come home from school, close my eyes and make up games - announcing into a tape recorder. Funny thing is, a lot of the phrases and cadence I developed then, I use today, just a lot more polished. That's why I'm always encouraging kids, especially the ones who aren't popular, if I can do this, one day you can do this."

I think . . .

I don't like the concept of coaches and players wearing microphones during nationally televised games, even if what the various networks eventually use is carefully filtered.

But a Timberwolves security person had to ask an advance scout from another team Wednesday night to stop using binoculars to scan the visitors' bench, even though there's no specific rule against it.

I see both instances as unnecessary intrusions. What's next, a news conference during a timeout?

Size matters

What does 6-11

Samuel Dalembert

think when he lines up against Houston's 7-6

Yao Ming


"That I'm 5-11," Dalembert said, laughing.

Last word

Sacramento comes in tonight as the only NBA team without a road victory. The Kings' 0-9 start away from home matches the team record set in 1987-88 and '93-94. Nice. *

Send e-mail to