Life's good for O'Neill

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:28 PM ET

Indiana Pacers forward Michael Curry was deep in conversation with a couple of Toronto reporters at the team's shootaround yesterday when an angry voice rang out from across the gym. "Hey Mike! F... those a..holes!"

Yes, Kevin O'Neill was in the building.

Turns out, the fiery Irishman was just having fun.

"Yes, he's the same laid back, mild-mannered guy that he has always been," O'Neill's new boss, Indiana head coach Rick Carlisle, said with a smile.

O'Neill would not talk on the record yesterday. But he did say that he is content and enjoying life as an assistant coach in the NBA.

Before being hired as the Raptors head coach prior to the 2003-04 season, O'Neill was an assistant in New York and with Carlisle in Detroit. Having his long-time friend and colleague back is a huge boost for Carlisle, who is experiencing the most trying year of his career, with three of his top players -- Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, and Jermaine O'Neal -- serving long suspensions for their part in an ugly brawl with fans in Detroit on Nov. 19. The Pacers, once considered a team that could win the Eastern Conference, have gone 4-8 since the brawl.

"It's great," Carlisle said. "I've got the two best assistant coaches you could ever have in Kevin and Mike Brown. They're just the best of the best. The goods news for me is when I lose Mike -- I'm sure he'll have offers next year to be a head coach -- I'll have Kevin to step in and take over the defence and all that stuff, and that's very reassuring. Because it's so hard to find truly great people as assistant coaches."

O'Neill's stay in Toronto lasted only one season. He was dismissed on April 16, with all of his assistants save Jay Triano, after the Raptors finished the season 33-49 -- nine more wins than the previous year, but still not good enough to make the playoffs. But it wasn't just the record that resulted in Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. giving him the boot. O'Neill locked horns with Raptors management at times, including GM Glen Grunwald and CEO Richard Peddie. And like current head coach Sam Mitchell, he had a difficult time coming to grips with the questionable work ethic and lack of toughness displayed by some of his players.

Surprisingly though, O'Neill insisted this week that he greatly enjoyed his time in Toronto and still loves visiting the city.


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