Stephen A. Smith | Pressure has changed talkative King

Posted: June 24, 2007

The answers are short these days, indicative of a man with so much on his mind and so very little to say. Billy King hasn't had it easy recently, and that's not about to change any time soon.

Not with Allen Iverson gone. Not with Larry Brown here. And certainly not with the chairman, Ed Snider, swearing he's paying attention, knowing his president and general manager possesses three first-round draft picks and, hence, the future of the 76ers, with nary an excuse in sight.

For years, we've heard about the difficulties Iverson created, of how his mercurial talent was so difficult for King to build a team around. Now the focus falls on King and everything he will do now that he does not have Iverson to fall back on.

Will Andre Iguodala be the face of this franchise or the complementary piece desperately waiting for a star to ascend once more? Is Samuel Dalembert truly seen as the Sixers' center of attention or will a center be grabbed in the draft so he can become the power forward this team appears to need so desperately?

"My feelings haven't changed from the day of the draft lottery," King said on his way to dinner Friday night. "We're going to make our picks based on the most talented player on the board, not on need. That's always been the plan, and it's not about to change."

Good. Because clearly King has changed.

Whether that is due to the Sixers' 35-47 finish last season, which gave them their second trip to the lottery in three seasons; the pressure being brought to bear on him because of it; or Brown's return to the organization, the Sixers boss once labeled The Man Who Would Be Governor because of his loquacious personality seems as if he's having his teeth pulled every time he is asked about the franchise.

One-word answers are not out of the question. One-sentence answers are pretty much the norm. If a paragraph is provided, little is revealed, if anything at all. None of that would be alarming if it fit King's personality, which it doesn't.

Perhaps King has grown fearful from the cynicism accompanying his every move, or lack thereof, despite knowing he has the unwavering support of Snider. Perhaps he has become a bit reluctant or simply has adopted the mentality that his words mean little when production is so far behind.

There are some who believe, after all, that King should be fired today. (I am not one of them, but check the e-mails.) King, with an astute mind, knows this all too well. So it stands to reason that he's probably focusing all his attention on the Sixers' possessing the 12th, 21st and 30th overall picks in Thursday's draft, knowing he's got a few pawns at his disposal to make something happen.

As of Friday evening, numerous NBA sources said the top 12 players on the board would go as follows, in no particular order:

Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Brandan Wright, Mike Conley Jr., Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah, Julian Wright, Jeff Green, Yi Jianlian, Spencer Hawes and Al Thornton.

Word is that Kansas' Julian Wright, a 6-foot-81/2 product capable of playing both forward positions, could fall to the Sixers. But the Sixers also like Hawes, a 7-foot freshman from Washington. Moreover, the Sixers like Jason Smith, the quick, athletic 7-foot power forward from Colorado State with a shooter's touch. But Brown likes the active, hard-playing Thornton from Florida State.

"It's a very deep draft," King said. "It's a deeper draft than it's been in recent memories - a lot of quality guys who can make a contribution. That much I will say."

That's all anyone needs to hear for now. November and beyond will be a different matter entirely.

We've heard numerous things since the Sixers ended their season prematurely, mainly that King is still the man. Maurice Cheeks is still the coach. Larry Brown still wants to be a coach and, for once, Snider is unmoved.

"Billy King will call the shots in this organization, no one else," Snider said recently. "He's the man who will make the basketball decisions. He's young, he's talented, and I have faith he'll do very well and continue to move us in the right direction, and so should all of our fans. We have three first-round picks coming up."

Since that's really where it begins for Snider, it should begin there for us, too.

The past is the past, despite how painful it's been. A new time has arrived.

It's coming in the form of three first-round picks, dictated by the King himself as one of America's preeminent basketball towns watches.

Intimately.


Contact columnist Stephen A. Smith

at 215-854-5946 or ssmith@phillynews.com.

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