Just in case you were wondering, it wasn’t the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Stephen A. Smith who conspired to run Jim O’Brien out of town. It was Allen Iverson. Just ask Stephen A.
It’s hard to believe that O’Brien got fired after just one season, a 43-39 record, a 10-game improvement from the previous year, and a trip to the postseason.
O’Brien was fired yesterday, in part because of his coaching ability, but mainly because of his attitude. Check with the Sixers’ inner circle and you’ll get nothing but denials.
Especially from the mercurial star who averaged a league-leading 30.7 points per game and finished with first-team all-NBA honors.
The same player who took the court during the playoffs in Detroit infuriated because O’Brien would not allow his pregnant wife and three children to fly on the team’s chartered plane.
Iverson never liked O’Brien so much as he tolerated him. He never believed O’Brien was the coach who would maximize the potential of Samuel Dalembert, Willie Green, or anyone else who thought to dribble before shooting.
But at this moment, with Iverson “not young anymore,” as he has said on many occasions this year, the pressure falls squarely on him to produce and to not see a sixth coach depart under his watch.
Johnny Davis was a first-year coach tagged with low expectations, but it still counted as a departure. Larry Brown took six years to exit, leaving behind the impression that he couldn’t coach Iverson any longer.
Then there was Randy Ayers (someone Cheeks covets as his top assistant), dismissed after only 52 games on the job. Interim coach and noted disciplinarian Chris Ford followed and took about two hours to sever any relationship with Iverson.
Now O’Brien is the latest sacrificial lamb, the one presumably incapable of meshing athletic youth and experience with the three-time scoring champion.
It is possible that Iverson had very little to do with this. He did just finish following up the regular season with averages of 31.2 points and 10 assists on 46.8 percent shooting in the playoffs.
This may be about the development of Green, keeping Dalembert in town, and appeasing a one-legged Chris Webber, who’s probably not going anywhere with three years and $62 million remaining on his contract.
But when you’ve spent years harping about how you’ve never been treated like “the franchise player,” and when three coaches are gone in two seasons and the new one is someone you have admired for years, had a relationship with and clearly covet, it comes down to you.
Since the end of the 43-39 season, in which the Sixers were eliminated in five games by the Pistons, rising free agents Samuel Dalembert and Willie Green let it be known they weren’t coming back under the same coach.
This was after O’Brien stubbornly refused to adjust to his original players, particularly to the two above youngsters, preferring to adhere to his system instead. Kenny Thomas, Brian Skinner and Corliss Williamson, misfits in that system, felt like they’d been pardoned from prison when they were traded to the Kings for Chris Webber.
Meanwhile, it took weeks for O’Brien begrudgingly to modify his offense and defense to accommodate Webber’s passing skills somewhat, as well as camouflage his lack of mobility due to offseason knee surgery.
Basically, it took O’Brien far less than a season to alienate almost everyone worthwhile, especially Allen Iverson, Webber and chairman Ed Snider.
Cheeks isn’t the perfect replacement, by any stretch. Nobody within the Blazers’ organization would give him their blessing. His sideline methodology is suspect and he failed to correct numerous disciplinary problems until they were too far gone to alleviate them. Nevertheless, the Sixers’ former point god is beloved in Philly, by none more than Iverson who turned to him early and often for advice and comfort when Cheeks assisted Larry Brown.