Stephen A. Smith | Cheeks deserves another season

Posted: April 20, 2007

After any season filled with chaos, soap-opera style story lines and failed expectations - which seem to live in perpetuity when it comes to these 76ers - it's customary to call for someone's head. This is a state of emergency, after all.

But while we're lamenting another lottery-bound season - and the employment of the architects responsible for it - save the guillotine for someone other than coach Maurice Cheeks, about the only bright spot at the Wachovia Center these days.

Such words of support might seem ridiculous concerning a coach who just finished 35-47, 10th in a junior-varsity league known as the Eastern Conference and out of the playoffs for a second consecutive season, with Larry Brown potentially waiting in the wings. But if there's something to be said about shining under adverse circumstances, Cheeks has earned his $3 million guarantee for next season.

(Note: Enjoy this moment. I'm in a good mood!)

If you're waiting for a state-of-the-Sixers report on a day they're exiting for another lengthy off-season, feel free to go and waste your own time. Outside of the absence of trade rumors involving Allen Iverson and Chris Webber, there is nothing to report.

Iverson and Webber are in the playoffs but playing for someone else. The parts of the team that remain here only hope they will experience that someday. Judging by how long it's been since the Sixers hierarchy has been a significant player in the postseason, they're probably feeling the same way despite their predictable denials.

And if you're the chairman, Mr. Ed Snider, you're ready to hire the best firm money can buy to whet the public's appetite with some cute little soliloquy about how better times are inevitable.

There will be meetings on top of meetings. No word on whether they will occur here in Philadelphia or in one of Snider's posh homes on the West Coast. But there will be banter about everything from Andre Iguodala's ability to lead the Sixers to whether Samuel Dalembert should even remain a Sixer.

All of that is fine and good. Perfect subject matter for the despondent in this town. Just as long as it's not about Cheeks' job security, the Sixers are moving in the right direction.

On the record, right here in this space, it has been said that it's very possible Brown could be back coaching the Sixers next season. But never, in this space, has it been said that Larry Brown should coach these Sixers next season. And it won't be said now.

Cheeks is the right man because he's got the right temperament for the young talent he oversees. The players have proven they will play for him. Above all else, there is an upside, because he's only getting better. Jimmy Lynam is back as a perfect sidekick. And since Cheeks is devoid of a fatherly relationship with Snider, only results will suffice if he wants to remain employed, which ensures a greater possibility that we'll all get our money's worth for the first time in a while.

That's assuming King and Brown - Mr. Draft these days - do the job Brown supposedly was brought back to do.

Brown is a fantastic coach who was dealt a bad hand. It will always be said here that bad hand was dealt by the players in New York, even while Brown professes it was the Knicks' brass - from president/coach Isiah Thomas to owner James Dolan. And when that should matter to Cheeks, we'll all be sure to let him know.

The fact is that Cheeks has done a phenomenal job, much better than anyone anticipated. The Sixers played better than .500 ball after Iverson was traded. They played hard on most nights, revealed some evidence of improvement, and actually worked on their conditioning, something they swore Iverson and Webber were allergic to.

In other words, "Coaching is not an issue with the Sixers, in my estimation," Phoenix Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said weeks ago when the Suns visited Philadelphia. "They're playing hard for him, and he's doing a good job coaching them. No one should ignore that."

Not in this off-season, anyway.

The fact is, despite desires for this team to tank the season and not resign itself to mediocrity for years to come, it doesn't negate the job Cheeks has done. In two years, the Sixers coach has gone from an individual disguised as a coach too busy befriending his players to one gaining the respect of his peers.

That doesn't guarantee much in the NBA fraternity, but another season isn't too much to ask for.

King is still the president, and Brown is back as the team's executive vice president.

If they can have a job for another year, why not Cheeks?

He's the man doing most of the work!


Contact columnist Stephen A. Smith at 215-854-5846

or ssmith@phillynews.com.

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