Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Leaving on a Jet Plane

The Sixers relieved head coach Jim O'Brien of his duties yesterday- bringing to an end one of the more odd tenures in Philadelphia coaching.

I find most of the analysis in the papers a little overwrought. As for the official editorial position of “Frank Helps You Think It All Out”, we are decidedly neutral here. O’Brien did okay, right? He won 43 games- up from 33 the year before. How much more "improvement" was realistic for this bunch? More than the ten victories O'Brien achieved? Their play-off series loss to Detroit was credible- a late free throw miss by Green away from squaring the series at 2-2. Folks might complain about how long it took Webber to get integrated- but you integrate a guy playing on one leg. Plus, once the team did sort of figure things out, the Sixers finished as strong as anyone in the East short of the two elite organizations over the last twenty games. He reached Iverson at some level- as AI had his best ever season. So I refuse to say there is no downside of getting rid of a coach who I guarantee will be on a lot of short-lists next year.

The bottom line is that O’Brien did not enjoy the total confidence of the GM or the owner. And as long as that was true, other secondary issues and facts became shaded accordingly. The $8 million they owe the coach no longer mattered. The Sixers are awash in cash- and as long as Webber and Iverson are here, there are no free-agents that can contribute that are signable ere. The players tolerated O’Brien- particularly Dalembert and Webber- so no viable protection was coming from that quarter. Plus, didn’t coach have a lot of rocky relationships with ownership, players and media for a guy in town just 13 months? The point is- there was no great need to keep or remove this guy. You can justify and handle either decision.

Accordingly, this situation is more a vote of confidence in Mo Cheeks- the greatest unconsummated love affair in Philadelphia over the past few years. Two seasons ago, GM King evidently tried three times to obtain permission from the Blazers to speak with him. He was denied each time. Had Cheeks, the guy the Sixers organization really wants on the bench, not been available, O’Brien probably would have returned. In short, don't overanalyze. A lot of this is simply the Sixers moving aggressively to put the guy they really wanted on the bench.

Lastly, even if O’Brien did a good enough job to justify his retention, I think any rational person would have to at least consider a change. The Sixers have to look at this current core of players as having a two year window- I certainly cannot see Webber contributing past that point. Maybe O’Brien performance, a smattering of games over break-even and a admittedly gutsy first round performance, is all these guys can do? Perhaps. But 43 wins is not enough in Philadelphia- or better, maybe you owe it to your organization and fans to see if someone else can do better.

Ultimately, I think that is the story here. The status quo is simply not good enough to justify not trying someone else. The Sixers felt that O’Brien did more than okay, but that last season was the most he could get out of the current collection of basketball assets. They modestly hope Cheeks can do more.