Only Time Will Tell About King’s Tenure With 76ers

By Stephen A. Smith
Updated: March 18, 2007

PHILADELPHIA — The 76ers are winning games these days, and Billy King is heading to China. On the surface, it’s really not a big deal. After all, it’s King job to assemble a roster of players, which involves leaving town from time to time.

But considering the precarious state of the Sixers these days – where change appears imminent one day, unfathomable the next – no one deserves the feel of a different ambience more than the Sixers’ president and general manager himself.

Ya know! The former Man Who Would Be Governor primarily responsible for these unsettling, albeit improving, state of affairs. Forget about who’s going to be coaching the Sixers next season. Try asking yourself who’s going to be running the Sixers next season?

At the moment, since Ed Snider is still Mr. Chairman, the only safe bet is that it won’t be Pat Croce. And that somehow, some way Snider will take care of King. No matter what.

In the interest of clarity one last time: Larry Brown could very well be the coach of the Sixers next season. Brown could also be running basketball operations next season.

That means if Brown desires, he could have Maurice Cheeks’ or King’s job. He could simply choose to stay on as the team’s executive vice president and answer to King (stop laughing!) or leave to join Michael Jordan and Bob Johnson in Charlotte for cheaper, less posh amenities.

And there isn’t a thing King can do about it.

The thing is, King may not want to since Brown may be one of the few supporters potentially needed in the future.

If you ask Snider publicly, he’ll tell you King is his guy. Privately, though, sources inside Comcast-Spectacor begrudgingly speak of how Snider is battling his own competitive demons:

Snider purportedly loves King as if he were blood, even while he wards off advisers who’ve questioned King’s productivity.

For years. And counting!

While Snider would gleefully point to the Sixers’ production these days, having recently won seven straight before capturing eight of their last 10 games, there’s a few folks inside Comcast-Spectacor who have some other things they’d prefer to point out.

No one was happy Chris Webber was bought out for $36 million before miraculously healing just in time to help the Detroit Pistons make the kind of championship run he never helped the Sixers come close to.

There is also the perception that Allen Iverson was too much to handle because King pampered him on far too many occasions, displaying difficulty in dividing the line between business and friendship.

King could make a case against either argument, of course, especially with some of his latest moves, the cost-cutting measures he’s taken and the kind of outlook the Sixers appear to have working in their favor right now.

But King is also smart enough to know he can’t hide from the 26-40 record his team is walked into the Wachovia Center with Sunday night. Nor the frequent trips to the lottery or plummeting attendance.

“We’ll get better,” King said weeks ago. “I truly believe that. We need a piece here or there, but I believe in our talent. I think we’ll get even better in the future. But we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Yep! But that applies to King, too.

For every little winning streak, you can’t help but notice they were crushed by 20-4 on the offensive glass and destroyed by 33-4 on second-chance points just two days ago by Utah.

The manner in which they play these days, even as they further perpetuate their own state of mediocrity by winning, triggers just the kind of mind-set that makes one question if this team is really improving? Or is it just that teams have continuously looked right past them since the Sixers’ season was over before we opened our Christmas presents?

If you don’t have the answers to either question, don’t sweat it. The Sixers don’t have any answers these days, either. So why should the rest of us?

Just because they paid off Cheeks with a $3 million guarantee on the final year of his contract doesn’t mean they’ll keep him around. It just means he’s taken care of.

And just because King says there will be no changes next season doesn’t make it so. Snider can always come forth and say, “I love ’em both,” meaning King and Cheeks. “They’ll stay. But this is the role I want LB to play.”

No one knows this better than King, no doubt strategizing on that long scouting trip to China, contemplating a future rife with question marks.

King might want to take a moment to stop wondering about the Sixers’ future and start wondering about his own.

Lord only knows how many people are doing that much for him already.

Including Brown, the very man who brought him to Philadelphia in the first place.