Saturday, December 13, 2008

76ers fire coach Maurice Cheeks

Maurice Cheeks was fired Saturday as coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, who are slumping at 9-14 a year after making the playoffs. Assistant general manager Tony DiLeo was appointed interim coach.

The moves were confirmed by a person familiar with the decision who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because an announcement had not been made. The team scheduled an afternoon news conference with general manager Ed Stefanski

Cheeks was one of more the popular players in 76ers history and was starting his fourth season as coach. Stefanski had given Cheeks two contract extensions in the past season, but the slow start was enough to cost him his job.

The dismissal came hours before the 76ers were to play at home Saturday night, with DiLeo now making his coaching debut against Washington. DiLeo has spent 19 seasons with the 76ers. He was promoted to senior vice president/assistant general manager in 2003.

Cheeks became the fifth NBA coach fired this season following P.J. Carlesimo (Oklahoma City), Eddie Jordan (Washington), Sam Mitchell (Toronto) and Randy Wittman (Minnesota)..

Cheeks led the 76ers to the playoffs last year for the first time while he was coach. Philadelphia was one of the surprise teams in the East last season, and the 76ers anticipated a deep run in the playoffs this year.

They signed Elton Brand to a five-year deal worth nearly $80 million last summer, but they have struggled with him in the lineup and have lost eight of 10.

Last season, the 76ers lost in the first round to Detroit. After an 18-30 start, Philadelphia won 18 of its next 23 games and wound up at 40-42, the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Stefanski rewarded Cheeks with two contract extensions in seven months that would have taken him to the end of next season. Instead, with the team on a three-game losing streak and last in the Atlantic Division, he didn't even last until the end of the calendar year.

Cheeks also coached at Portland. He played 15 seasons in the NBA, the first 11 with Philadelphia, and retired in 1993. An outstanding defensive player, Cheeks played in four All-Star games and was a member of the 76ers' championship team in 1982-83. His No. 10 jersey hangs in the rafters.

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