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O'Brien steps down as Celtics coach

1/28/2004 - Boston Celtics

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Danny Ainge's reshaping of the Boston Celtics clashed with Jim O'Brien's view of the team. So, O'Brien
became part of that makeover.

O'Brien stepped down Tuesday with his team in a 2-5 slump with
players Ainge brought in since taking over last May 9 as executive
director of basketball operations.

Ainge wants a younger team with more offense that can become a
consistent contender even if it means taking a step or two back
now. O'Brien relied on veterans and defense and cared more about
this season's record.

"The philosophical differences, I thought, were much smaller
than Jim thought," said Ainge, who had given O'Brien a two-year
contract extension through 2005-06. "I was willing to work through
those. Jim did not see that long-term vision that I saw."

A source told ESPN's David Aldridge that O'Brien actually offered to resign effective at season's end. However, the Celtics told O'Brien that if he was going to leave, he should do so immediately, the source said.

Now John Carroll, O'Brien's assistant, will get a chance to
pursue that vision as interim coach and will have that job for the
rest of the season, Ainge said.

"He's done a great job as an assistant coach to this point,"
Ainge said.

Carroll, who makes his debut Wednesday night against Detroit,
was in his seventh season as a Celtics assistant and had been head
coach at Duquesne from 1989-95.

Assistant coach Dick Harter, a defensive specialist, was let go.

O'Brien was an assistant when he became head coach on Jan. 8,
2001, after Rick Pitino stepped down. O'Brien led the Celtics to a
139-119 regular-season record and to the Eastern Conference finals
and semifinals the past two seasons.

Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck praised O'Brien and said the former
coach felt the reconstructed team might be better off with someone
else leading it.

"He was not sure he's the man for that job," Grousbeck said.
"He didn't want to take our money and our time under false
pretenses."

When Ainge was appointed, O'Brien voiced strong support.

"I think it's wonderful. I think it's a great move by our
owners," O'Brien said. "In the future, people will look back, I
think they will think it's a real step forward and a turning point
for our franchise."

On Tuesday, a call to Lonnie Cooper, O'Brien's agent, wasn't
returned.

The hiring of Ainge was the first of many changes for the
Celtics, who have just three active players -- Paul Pierce, Mark Blount and Walter McCarty -- who were on the team last season.

Ainge traded Antoine Walker to Dallas on Oct. 20, then sent
veteran team leaders and defenders Eric Williams and Tony Battie to
Cleveland on Dec. 15. He also worked with players at practice and
made suggestions to O'Brien about who should play.

Ainge said it was his "prerogative" to make suggestions, just
as it was proper for O'Brien to voice his opinion about potential
trades.

Ainge's preference for young players, such as first-round draft
pick Marcus Banks, "is an understandable difference" between him
and O'Brien, Ainge said.

Instead, O'Brien used Mike James at point guard while Banks was
his primary replacement.

"We felt there was a ceiling on the success of the old
players," Ainge said. "So we didn't always agree on the players
who should be on the court."

The Celtics are 22-24 and in second place in the weak Atlantic
Division. The first-place team, the New Jersey Nets, fired its
coach, Byron Scott on Monday. Two other Atlantic Division coaches,
Don Chaney of New York and Doc Rivers of Orlando, also were fired
during the season.

But Ainge said he was surprised that O'Brien offered his
resignation Tuesday morning during one of their regular meetings to
discuss their philosophical differences.

"This isn't exactly how I thought this day would end," Ainge
said.

O'Brien was "100 percent on board" with the trade of Walker to
Dallas, Ainge said, but didn't fully support the trade with
Cleveland that brought Ricky Davis, Chris Mihm and Michael Stewart.

"He understood the trade from a logistical standpoint," Ainge
said. "But, again, I had a longer-term vision than Jim O'Brien
had."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.