76ers extend Cheeks' contract one season

PHILADELPHIA -- Maurice Cheeks has at least another season to try and win a championship ring in Philadelphia as a coach to match the one he won as an All-Star guard with the 76ers.

A nice first step would simply be leading the Sixers back to the playoffs.

Even without a winning record in his first two seasons in Philly and the Sixers under .500 this season, team president Ed Stefanski believed Cheeks was still the right coach to guide the franchise's rebuilding process.

Cheeks and the Sixers agreed to a one-year contract extension Wednesday, giving him through the 2008-09 season toget Philly back to the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

"That's what I'm excited about, the chance to come back and try this all over again," Cheeks said. "When you have a lot of young players, you hope that you can see it through."

The Sixers have not reached the playoffs in Cheeks' first two full seasons and they entered Wednesday night's game against New York holding the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.

Cheeks, in the final season of a three-year deal, is 96-122 with the Sixers.

Stefanski, hired in early December, said watching a fairly young team grow under Cheeks gave him the confidence to add another year to the contract. The two speak daily, exchanging feedback and tips on the state of the franchise, each becoming more open as the games go on.

But the Sixers are finally expected to have some salary cap flexibility -- about $10 million in cap space for next summer. Stefanski plans to tinker with the roster and wanted to see how Cheeks meshed with any possible new additions before committing to him beyond next season.

"I feel comfortable with Mo, but it's only been a couple of months," Stefanski said. "I feel that I need more time to see if I feel this is more of a long-term thing. But things are going in the right direction right now for me. So in my mind, one year makes a lot of sense to me."

Stefanski said it was unlikely Cheeks would have to adapt to any more changes this season. While other teams are calling about point guard Andre Miller, Stefanski said he wasn't shopping the veteran and didn't anticipate making any major moves before Thursday's trade deadline.

"If a trade would come up that would not hurt our future, I would think hard that we pull the trigger on something like that, but we've gotten no deals that I think make sense to help us," Stefanski said.

A four-time All-Star point guard during 15 seasons in the NBA, Cheeks was a fan favorite on Philly teams that also included Julius "Dr. J" Erving and Moses Malone. Cheeks helped lead the Sixers to the NBA title in 1983, the last time any of Philadelphia's four major pro teams won a championship.

Cheeks was an assistant under three coaches from 1994-2001, and was part of Larry Brown's staff when the Sixers went to the NBA finals in 2001.

He was hired as coach by former team president Billy King in 2005 and inherited a playoff team that was expected to contend again in the East. The franchise was hopeful the bond Cheeks developed as an assistant with former MVP Allen Iverson would soothe the mercurial star. Iverson even joked he was so elated Cheeks was hired he wanted to kiss him.

Instead, their relationship soured and Iverson's pairing with
Chris Webber fizzled. Once the Sixers traded Iverson and cut ties with Webber last season, the Sixers decided to rebuild. With Brown lurking in the front office, Cheeks was never sure he would get to see the rebuilding effort come to fruition.

"I didn't focus on that. I focused on trying to do the best I can," Cheeks said. "It's a relief that I have another chance to coach, finish out this year and coach into next year."

The mild-mannered Cheeks is popular with his players and they always play hard for him, perhaps the biggest reason the Sixers are even in the mix for a playoff spot in the weak Eastern Conference.

Cheeks always remains steady and optimistic, never publicly scolds his young team and tells them to ignore chatter from fans who want lottery picks instead of an eighth seed. The Sixers responded with a season-high five straight wins until the streak was snapped in a 104-88 loss at Minnesota on Tuesday night.

"He always wanted to play an up-tempo style, get out and pressure the ball and I think this is the group that he's been able to do that with more so than a couple of years [ago]," guard Lou Williams said.

Cheeks was fired in 2005 after nearly four seasons as coach of the Trail Blazers. He had a 162-139 record in Portland, the fourth-highest win total in Blazers history.