When Jim O'Brien was hired as a Celtics assistant in 1997, he had a hard time shaking the feeling that he was in the wrong place. He had grown up in North Philly, despising Boston, and now here he was, going to work for Rick Pitino on the Celtics' staff. "On the way to the press conference, I said to Red [Auerbach], 'I can't tell you how many times your teams made me cry growing up,'" O'Brien recalls. "He took a big puff of his cigar, blew the smoke toward me, and said, 'That's good.'"
O'Brien, who replaced Pitino in January 2001 and took Boston to the '02 conference finals, is much more at home in his new assignment: coaching the team for which he rooted as a kid. And the team needs help. Riddled by injuries in 2003-04, Philadelphia missed the playoffs for the first time in six years. O'Brien, who succeeds interim coach Chris Ford--the replacement after Randy Ayers was fired last February--believes the Sixers can snap back. "We have four guys who have averaged double figures for their career; two who have averaged over 20 points for their career," he says. "We have two guys [Aaron McKie and Corliss Williamson] who've won Sixth Man awards. And we have an MVP."
O'Brien showed how highly he regards his MVP when he went all the way to Turkey to meet with Allen Iverson before the Olympics. With Eric Snow traded to Cleveland, O'Brien wants Iverson to run the offense as well as ignite the pressure defense.
So far, coming home has been good for O'Brien. He's building a house in Newtown Square, where his wife, Sharon (whose father is Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay), grew up. Still, he hasn't forgotten his time in Boston. "I learned a lot from Red," O'Brien says. "And I'd be more than happy to bring it to Philadelphia and create that rivalry again." --Bill Syken
an opposing team's scout sizes up the 76ers
They have a chance to move up in the standings because they're going back to defense, pressuring the ball and contesting every shot. If Allen Iverson is healthy and making jumpers, the Philly fans are going to love this team.... Jim O'Brien has as good a basketball mind as Larry Brown's, without the ego, and Iverson might appreciate that. If he's willing to meet O'Brien in the middle, this partnership could be a good one.... Iverson takes over at the point, but he'll still run off screens to get his shots because they need his offense. The best bet to start at shooting guard is young Willie Green. He's tough, he can handle the ball, he explodes to the basket--and he turned out to be a better shooter than I thought he'd be.... The intriguing guy is forward Kyle Korver. O'Brien loves three-point shooters to help spread the floor, but Korver might be overmatched on D. O'Brien's good at overloading and making sure the other team shoots from certain spots, so he may be able to hide Korver.... Samuel Dalembert began to establish himself as a rebounder and shot blocker last year; he also proved he can hit turnaround 12-footers. The question is: Can he handle the discipline of Dick Harter's defensive system? I wouldn't be surprised to see them putting Brian Skinner on the main post-up guy and letting Dalembert cover on the weak side and come over to block shots.... For some reason Glenn Robinson thought he had to put the ball on the floor before every shot last year, and he couldn't control it. Even if Kenny Thomas and Corliss Williamson--undersized, post-up power forwards--replace Robinson at the three, no one on that front line forces a double team.
Allen Iverson and Glenn Robinson have a combined career average of 6.89 turnovers, the most for two active teammates (minimum 400 games each).
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2003-04 statistics
Record: 33-49 (T-10th in East)
Points scored: 88.0 (28th in NBA)
Points allowed: 90.5 (10th)
Coach: Jim O'Brien
(first season with the 76ers)
NEW ACQUISITION *PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86)
JAMIE SQUIRE/GETTY IMAGES