Sixers coach didn't make any excuses

FRANK ZICARELLI, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:08 AM ET

Three days after being deep-sixed by the slumping Sixers, Maurice Cheeks took the expected high road, refusing to point fingers and blaming himself for the failure that was the Philadelphia 76ers.

Cheeks is a breath of fresh air in a league where hot air often spews out of the mouths of coaches, players and executives.

While everyone expected Cheeks to take the high road when he addressed Philly's demanding media yesterday, no one could have expected his assessment as to why he couldn't carry last season's momentum into the new campaign.

There were high expectations in Philly, heightened by the off-season acquisition of Elton Brand, a player many pundits believed would take the 76ers to the next level in the Eastern Conference.

Under Cheeks, the Sixers played an uptempo game, played hard on virtually every possession, but bogged down when forced into the half-court game.

STUMBLED EARLY

Brand was viewed as the perfect complement to Cheeks' style, but his arrival didn't translate into early season success and Cheeks got canned when his team stumbled to a 9-14 beginning.

Cheeks could have cited Andre Iguodala's slow start, could have pointed to Samuel Dalembert playing well below his standards and he could have questioned management's impatience.

But he didn't, and for this he should be applauded.

Cheeks is fully aware that coaches are hired to be fired.

In an environment where the pressure to win is at its highest, the recent spate of dismissed coaches reinforces the tenuous life at the NBA level.

First came P.J. Carlesimo (Oklahoma City), then Eddie Jordan (Washington), followed by the Raptors' Sam Mitchell, and Randy Wittman (Minnesota).

This past Saturday, Philadelphia tied the can to Cheeks, who was given an extension in the wake of his remarkable turnaround of the club last season.

"In my case, it was the coach," Cheeks said at yesterday's news conference when asked why Philly could not find a winning formula.

More coaches will get axed, but it's unlikely we'll see the kind of candour expressed by Cheeks.

Obviously, there are serious repercussions for a fired employee when he fires a salvo at his former employer.

The NBA, like every pro sports league, is a glorified boys club and once you get black-balled there's virtually no chance of rejoining the fraternity.

"Sometimes being fired is one of the things that entails being a head coach," Cheeks said.

He's right, but it doesn't make it right for general managers to display such a penchant for impatience.

Reggie Theus became the sixth coach to get gassed two days ago when the Sacramento Kings showed him the door.

In the off-season, eight teams underwent a coaching change.

Do the math and almost one-half of the 30-team NBA has changed coaches.

Eventually, GMs have to look in the mirror and realize the roster they assembled isn't as good as they thought.

Coaches have become the fall guys, but good teams with a solid ownership base must look at the front office and be more prudent when making decisions that have far-reaching consequences.

"Things don't always work out the way you expect them to," Cheeks said. "I take solace in the fact I did the best I could."

Cheeks could have done more to extract more out of his team, but management also could have done more.

Maurice Cheeks turned the other cheek by taking the blame when it could have been easy to name names.

At least he faced the music.

REPATRIATING NASH?

Steve Nash isn't happy and his unhappiness grew even more when the Phoenix Suns traded Boris Diaw and Raja Bell, two of Nash's closest friends, to the Charlotte Bobcats last week.

One of Nash's best friends is Jay Triano, the Raptors interim head coach who coached Captain Canada at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Even the most diehard Raptors fan must realize this current lineup isn't athletic enough nor deep enough to make a serious run this season.

So, do you blow the team up or is there some trade scenario to address the obvious need for an explosive wing player and rebounding presence? Do you inquire about Nash's availability?

It has always been the belief of many basketball observers in Canada that Nash will one day play for Canada's lone NBA team. Is the time right to bring him home?


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