From Behind the Scenes, O'Brien Heads Back to Bench
As uncommon as it is for an NBA team to lose a top-ranking assistant two weeks out from the playoffs, so too is it rare for the same club to have the luxury of replacing him with one of the sport’s most seasoned, respected minds.
Such, however, is Brett Brown’s and the 76ers’ good fortune.
There’s no question that Saint Joseph’s University’s hiring of Billy Lange as its next head coach brought with it for Brown a swelling of pride and excitement. He and Lange forged a strong bond the past six years, riding every single ebb and flow of Brown’s tenure with the Sixers together.
Now, for the most fulfilling of reasons, a long-standing link to Brown’s original staff is gone. But the Sixers won’t be going into full-fledged scramble mode to fill Lange’s vacancy.
In fact, all Brown plans to do is give Jim O’Brien an upgrade from the back of the house to the front row.
While not as visible publicly this season as he was his first two years working with Brown, the sage, sharp O’Brien has remained an integral member of the Sixers’ coaching contingent, serving as Brown’s senior advisor. He took on the title over the summer, which gave Brown the flexibility to further flush out the rest of the coaching staff.
O’Brien still has his office at the 76ers Training Complex in Camden, is a regular presence at practices and walkthroughs, travels frequently, and participates in coaches meetings. The biggest change to his routine has been where and how he watches games.
Instead of having a seat on the bench right next to Brown, O’Brien stays back in the locker room. His trusted companion is a monitor with a six-second delay.
The setup was inspired by Brown’s own personal experience.
“My first year in San Antonio, when I sat behind the bench, I had access to a delayed monitor,” Brown said. “What a six-second window gives you is just incredible ammunition. You think you see something in a game and you look at the monitor - it either gets confirmed or it’s something different.”
When halftime rolls around, O’Brien is waiting for Brown and the rest of the Sixers’ assistants, armed with a trove of valuable insights.
“We come in and he’s got a wealth of information, or things happen in a game and he will send out different thoughts as the game’s unfolding,” said Brown.
Once the final buzzer sounds, Brown and O’Brien then typically regroup in private for a post-game debrief.
“After every game I get an incredible in-depth report of what he saw,” Brown said, “so it’s a collaborative type of thing that he and I especially have.”
At 67 years old, and with an esteemed track record to his name, O’Brien certainly doesn’t need the work, nor is there anything left he has to prove. He’s a three-time NBA head coach (Celtics, 76ers, Pacers), won an NCAA championship as an assistant (Kentucky), and has been in the coaching profession since the mid-1970s.
So why - even in what up until this week had been a modified capacity - does O’Brien keep doing it? What fuels his fire?
“Three things,” Brown said. “First, the love of the game, he loves basketball. Two, the relationships, staying around a team and interacting with each other. And I think three, the competition, the joy of competition.”
Throughout the season, O’Brien’s influence has remained widespread. You’ll now just be seeing a little more of him.
“He’s a mentor to a lot of our young coaches, he’s in every one of our coaches meetings, and speaks when he wants to be heard,” said Brown. “The transition from Billy Lange to Jim O’Brien is really quite seamless.”
A priceless perk, especially with the most important part of the season looming.