Thursday , Apr , 22 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

O’Brien is in for a surprise in Philly

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – Philadelphia 76ers team president and
general manager Billy King introduced Jim O’Brien as the 20th head coach in
the history franchise.

The hiring became official on Tuesday night and the press conference to
introduce O’Brien was on Wednesday.

The 52-year-old O’Brien replaces interim head coach Chris Ford, who took over
the Sixers 52 games into this season after Randy Ayers was let go. O’Brien,
who was the head coach of the Boston Celtics for parts of four seasons
(2001-04), has a career-record of 139-119. He did guide Boston to the playoffs
in 2001 and 2002 and registered a 13-13 postseason record.

In 2001, O’Brien’s Celtics went to the Eastern Conference finals only to lose
to the New Jersey Nets in six games.

O’Brien is a Philadelphia native. He went to a local high school and was four-
year player at Saint Joseph’s from 1970-74. The former general of the hated-
rival Celtics has come home.

King, whose future will weigh heavily on O’Brien’s success, is excited to
have been able to bring O’Brien back to the City of Brotherly Love.

“The one thing I like about Jim is that my background comes from defense,
having played for Coach K [Krzyzewski],” said King at Wednesday’s press
conference. “That’s one of the first things he said: ‘I want to play great
defense and I think your team can be a better defensive team. You’re a good
defensive team, but they can be a lot better.’ There are a lot of intangibles
that I can talk about or can’t talk about. It comes from just observing him
over the years when we played his teams. I admired how hard they played, how
prepared they were and I just think that he did a great job there. I just felt
it was a prefect fit for us, so without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, Jim
O’Brien.”

There has been a lot of speculation during recent weeks as to whether All-Star
guard Allen Iverson will be traded in the offseason. However, O’Brien had some
interesting things to say regarding the Georgetown product.

“When Billy came up to meet with me (March 25) very early in the conversation,
I said, ‘I want to just mention one thing to you Billy. I want to coach the
76ers.’ It’s something that I’ve been thinking about since I was about 8-
years-old to be a head coach in Philadelphia at the college or the pro level
and it’s come true,” said O’Brien. “In the next breath I said, ‘And I really
want to have an opportunity to coach Allen Iverson.’ So, we got those two
issues out of the way early. As he mentioned, we talked then, and we talked a
couple times on the phone since then and we kind of had everything come to a
head on Monday. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

O’Brien had success with Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker in Boston, but what
makes him want to work with Iverson, who has a reputation of not showing up
for practice as well as being a very difficult personality to deal with.

“To keep it simple,” O’Brien said. “The NBA is an interesting league in that
you play against teams a lot. In our case, we played against Philadelphia not
only in the regular season, but in the playoffs one year. I always liked the
look in Eric Snow, in Aaron McKie, in Iverson’s eyes when we competed against
them.”

The former general of the Celtics thinks he can develop a good working
relationship with the volatile Iverson.

“Well I’m not going to deal with, to use the word, hypothetical,” O’Brien
said. “I have never had any difficulty leading people and having people
understand the expectations that I have. I’m a very, well fairly, easy person
to play for. I think guys are comfortable because there is a plan. There’s
organization and there’s discipline. I think it’s a plan that players will be
able to execute and it’s organization that they’ll appreciate. It’s
discipline that I think everybody who plays for a team ultimately wants.”

Is it O’Brien saying the right things when it comes to Iverson? Will Iverson
really be back with the 76ers or is it a smoke screen?

“Allen (Iverson) will be here next year,” said King.

O’Brien has a strong defensive philosophy and has a strong background in
coaching. In his 30 years of coaching experience, O’Brien, has served as an
assistant coach at six different colleges, a head coach at the University of
Dayton (1989-94) and Wheeling Jesuit (1982-87), and an NBA assistant coach
with the New York Knicks (1987-89) in addition to his seven years with the
Celtics as an assistant coach (1997-2001) and a head coach.

Here is the thing, Iverson, who is a fearless player, missed 34 games this
season due to various injuries. He could be breaking down and his best years
may be a thing of the past. Snow and McKie have also seen their best years
pass them by as well.

The one good thing about Ford’s tenure as head coach was that he gave the
76ers a look at what the younger players on the roster could do. Even though
Philadelphia was just 12-18 under Ford, players such as Samuel Dalembert,
Kenny Thomas and rookies Kyle Korver and Willie Green proved that they have
futures in the NBA.

O’Brien believes he has an understanding of the hand that he has been dealt.

“I have a pretty clear understanding, if training camp was starting tomorrow
and I had this roster, how we would play,” said O’Brien. “I have a solid
understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. The biggest difficulty, I
don’t know these guys individually. I do not have any prior relationships with
any of these guys and I think that’s a key thing. But from a standpoint of
observation of all of their careers, and what they have brought to the team
and what their strengths and weaknesses are, I have a pretty good sense of
that.”

This is a team that needs to rebuild. It is not a squad that is one player
away from reaching the next level. King should try and find a trading partner
for Iverson, while Snow and McKie should also be playing in different uniforms
when the 2004-05 season begins. Don’t forget about disgruntled forward Glenn
Robinson, who complained about his playing time and averaged a career-low 16.6
points in just 42 games.

The 31-year-old Robinson was acquired from Atlanta in a four-team deal last
offseason. He he brought in by King to be the second scorer to Iverson. That
experiment failed miserably, as Robinson was not healthy throughout the season
and showed what a liability he is defensively.

Philadelphia should be trying to clear salary cap space by trading its veteran
players who have multiple years left on their contracts. King should also
attempt to load up on draft picks.

If King’s thought is that he hired a coach who can take the current roster and
win immediately, than he is mistaken. O’Brien was a strong hiring, but the
coach can only be successful if he has the necessary players. If King doesn’t
make a lot of changes, his days in Philadelphia could be numbered.

The puzzling thing is that O’Brien seems to be genuinely happy with the team
that he has taken over. O’Brien should expect his patience to be put to the
test in his future dealings with Iverson. If he really thinks this is a good
situation, O’Brien is in for a big surprise.