Thursday , Jan , 29 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

New blood in the Atlantic Division

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – The New Jersey Nets fired head coach
Byron Scott on Monday, and just one day later Boston’s Jim O’Brien resigned as
the general of the Boston Celtics.

What is going on here?

Actually, I am not surprised by either move. Rumors of New Jersey’s superstar
point guard Jason Kidd complaining of Scott’s coaching tactics have been
well documented, while O’Brien just got worn down by Boston’s head of
basketball operations Danny Ainge.

Scott, who was replaced by head assistant coach Lawrence Frank, is New
Jersey’s all-time winningest coach. He posted a 149-139 record in three-plus
seasons with the Nets. Scott’s accomplishments with the Nets are highlighted
by two consecutive trips to the NBA Finals.

“We appreciate all of the work, effort, sacrifice and success that Byron has
produced over the past three and a half seasons,” said Nets President Rod
Thorn. “I felt that at this time it is necessary to take the team in a
different direction, and I am confident Lawrence will be an outstanding leader
for our team, ”

Kidd, and New Jersey power forward Kenyon Martin, criticized Scott’s coaching
moves during last year’s NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. The duo did
not agree with the way Scott used former Nets center Dikembe Mutombo and the
coach’s stubbornness not to double team Finals MVP Tim Duncan.

Scott’s firing is a case of the inmates running the asylum. The bottom line is
that he got results. The Nets’ players better be ready to put up or shut up,
as they have run out of town the most successful coach in the history of the
franchise.

The situation in Boston was different than the one in New Jersey.

Like Scott with the Nets, I felt O’Brien had done a great job with the
Celtics. He led Boston to consecutive playoff berths after a six-year absence
from the postseason. O’Brien, who was replaced by assistant coach John
Carroll, took over for Rick Pitino on January 8, 2001, and recorded an overall
mark of 139-119 as the Celtics’ general.

O’Brien’s departure has a lot to do with conflicts between himself and Ainge.

“The philosophical differences, again, I think there are philosophical
differences in every organization, within the coaching staff, the general
manager and a coach, I think those things just exist,” said Ainge. “I spent a
lot of time this summer analyzing the coaching possibilities and Jim O’Brien
was my choice. And even knowing that there was philosophical coaching
differences. There’s no such thing as that perfect coach. I was willing to
work through those but Jim did not see that same long term vision that I saw.”

In 2002, O’Brien guided the Celtics, who were defeated by the Nets in the
Eastern Conference Finals, to within two games of a berth in the NBA Finals.
Last season, he led Boston, which fell in the second round to New Jersey, to a
first-round upset of Indiana.

O’Brien was doing an excellent job with the Celtics. He had a pair of All-
Stars in Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker. Both Pierce and Walker are in the
prime of their careers and together they formed one of the most potent one-two
punches in the NBA. It seemed to me that all O’Brien needed was just one more
piece of the puzzle to get Boston to the next level.

What went wrong?

For starters, Boston hired Ainge as the team’s new head of basketball
operations. What did the former Celtic great do to irritate and frustrate
O’Brien.

What about that awful trade Ainge made in the offseason with Dallas? He
traded the three-time All-Star Walker and guard Tony Delk to the Mavericks
for center Raef LaFrentz, Jiri Welsch, Chris Mills and a first-round pick next
season. One would think O’Brien would not have been a fan of that deal.

However, Ainge said that O’Brien supported the deal with Dallas. “He (O’Brien)
was 100% on board with the Antoine trade. Every ounce of it.”

What about the trade with Cleveland? On December 15, 2003, the Celtics
acquired controversial guard Ricky Davis, center Chris Mihm, forward Michael
Stewart and a second-round draft pick from Cleveland for swingman Eric
Williams, center Tony Battie, and forward Kedrick Brown. Was O’Brien happy
about getting a player (Davis) that is known to be selfish and difficult to
deal with?

“No he was not on board 100%,” said Ainge when asked about the Cleveland
trade.

O’Brien has proven that he can coach on the NBA level, while Ainge, who proved
he could play back in the day, has not proven anything as an executive in the
NBA. Boston has lost a very good coach in O’Brien.

The bottom line is that Ainge and O’Brien could not co-exist. One of them had
to go, and it was the coach.

Are the Celtics and Nets better teams with their new head coaches? I don’t
think so.