THIS WAS NOT a place Maurice Cheeks wanted to be, sitting alone on a dais, in front of a microphone. Roughly 48 hours earlier, he had lost his job as the coach of the 76ers, and this was, in effect, his exit interview with the media. But there was no anger, no negativity, no finger-pointing. His status had changed, but he had not.

"I used to tell the players, there are a lot things that go with this position," he said. "I used to tell them when we had bad games, 'This is a moment.'

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"This moment will pass. It's just how you deal with the moment that's upon me right now. I'm dealing with it the best I can to get past it.

"This is not about pointing fingers . . . this is part of life. This is about saying to yourself that you did the best you could, and moving on. No one that gets fired . . . feels good about it. I would suspect the Sixers organization doesn't feel good about it."

Cheeks, who has a contract that runs through next season, was told of his release Saturday morning in a meeting with president/general manager Ed Stefanski, and was replaced by Tony DiLeo, who remains the senior vice president of basketball operations/assistant general manager, for the remainder of the season. Cheeks has been told there can be a job for him within the organization and said, "I'm more than happy to do that."

Cheeks' team was 9-14 when he was let go. He took the weekend to absorb the shock and gather his thoughts, and to make certain his emotions were under control before he spoke publicly.

"I've got a little more time for the Sporting Club [and pickup games] now," he said, offering his characteristic little laugh. "I'll be playing a lot more up there."

He provided all the requisite words of appreciation, spreading them around, from chairman Ed Snider all the way to then-public relations director Harvey Pollack, who was the voice on the phone in 1978 telling the West Texas State senior that he was the second-round draft choice of the Sixers.

"I love the city, I love this town," Cheeks said. "I've been a part of this town for a long time. I don't plan on going anywhere."

And then, again injecting some humor, he said, "If I did, I really couldn't play at the Sporting Club."

"I'm here," he said. "This is a tough time for me, a tough thing to have to deal with, but it's part of the business. If you're not winning games, things happen. Unfortunately, it can be the coach. In my case, it was the coach. Things don't always work out the way you'd like them to.

"No one understands, once you get fired, once you get let go, the feelings that go inside of it; it's not an easy thing to deal with. I take solace in the fact that I did the best I could. I have to be satisfied about that."

In one more touch to lighten the moment, he said, "I've been in the city a long time, with the exception I got traded five times, [but] my allegiance is here."

He knew his team wasn't performing up to preseason expectations, particularly after the addition of Elton Brand, the re-signing of Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams, the drafting of Marreese Speights and the signing of four veteran free agents to supposedly strengthen the bench. But losing his job wasn't something he saw coming.

"I don't necessarily know if I felt it inside," he said. "You know things are just not going the way you want them to. You keep saying to yourself, '[I] hope not, [I] hope not.' "

His last game was last Friday night, an 88-72 loss in Cleveland, the eighth loss in 10 games. The next morning, he became the fifth coach in the league to be fired, followed by the Sacramento Kings' Monday firing of Reggie Theus. In his meeting with Stefanski, Cheeks expressed regret that he wouldn't have the opportunity to finish the job at hand.

"What can I tell you?" Cheeks said yesterday. "It's part of life, part of the world."

He had other plans before Sixers publicist Mike Preston suggested yesterday's session.

"I was on my way to Miami before Mike set this up," he said, smiling. "It's still going to be 80 degrees tomorrow." *

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