PHILADELPHIA (AP) -With an unexpected free night on his schedule, the unemployed Billy King decided it might be nice to take his pregnant wife to a movie.
A nice date night for a man who now considers his fulltime job as stay-at-home family man.
Maybe the film will have a happier ending than his time as president and general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers.
King acknowledged on Wednesday he was surprised he was fired in the final year of his contract after 10 years of running a franchise that has bottomed out since a trip to the NBA finals in 2001.
King was led to believe management firmly backed his idea of a three-year rebuilding plan that he believed would build the Sixers into a contender in the Eastern Conference. Instead, chairman Ed Snider delivered the surprising news to King before Monday's game that he was out and New Jersey general manager Ed Stefanski was taking over.
``The timing of it was a surprise to me more than anything,'' King said at a downtown steakhouse.
With the Sixers going nowhere last year with Allen Iverson, and the former MVP again causing headaches off the court, King decided to trade their franchise player and start fresh. The Sixers had three first-round picks thanks to the deal with Denver and the organization decided to go with youth and made 19-year-old Thaddeus Young the 12th overall pick.
Young is averaging 3.6 points and 8.3 minutes in 10 games. Had King known he would have been under a shorter time frame to turn the Sixers around, he would have been more aggressive in moving up in the draft to take an impact player or tried harder to swing a big deal.
King wasn't even too concerned about the record because he was so convinced his three-year plan would be a success. He expected the Sixers to take some lumps this season (which they are), make the playoffs next year and then be ready to play deep into the postseason in 2010.
``I don't regret rebuilding,'' King said. ``I think it was the right thing to do.''
He had little choice because the Sixers are far from the team that electrified the city during the run to the 2001 finals.
``I feel that we're putting the franchise in the direction to get back to that level,'' King said.
Snider and Comcast-Spectacor president Peter Luukko weren't going to give him another shot. Snider had always been deeply loyal to King and the decision to make a change likely was not his idea. Luukko was the one who told King at the end of last season he wanted to put contract talks on hold and he was the one who approached the Nets about talking to Stefanski.
When asked if he thought the decision was Luukko's, King simply sipped some water and smiled.
The Sixers were 5-12 entering Wednesday night's game against Boston. Both teams were in the draft lottery last season, only Boston GM Danny Ainge swung a pair of bold trades that had the Celtics at the top of the Eastern Conference.
King said he had enough patience to stick out the season with coach Maurice Cheeks, also in the last year of his contract. Cheeks said he was given no assurance that he last the rest of the year.
``I was trying to figure out how to make it work with Mo,'' King said.
Cheeks said on Wednesday night he wasn't going to worry if each game could be his last.
``I'm the kind of person that kind of goes with the way it is,'' Cheeks said. ``Certainly, when you go in, you always have optimism. I've never stopped thinking things are going to change for the better.''
Another member of the organization whose future is in doubt: consultant Larry Brown. King and Brown are close friends and King decided to bring the former Sixers coach back to the organization last year after a messy ending with the Knicks.
With King gone, Brown could decide to pursue another coaching job.
``Despite what happened in New York, he is one of the best,'' King said. ``When you're a lifer, you're a coach. When you do it as well as Larry, that's what you do.''
King appreciated Philadelphia's passionate fan base that stayed loyal until the past year. He loves the city where he met his wife, started a family and was a Phillies season-ticket holder. King only wished he could have been to the one to lead the victory parade down Broad Street.
``I'm just sorry I wasn't able to get the championship for them,'' he said.

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