Citing loyalty to Jim O'Brien, Dick Harter has left the Boston Celtics' coaching staff. O'Brien resigned Tuesday due to what he termed 'philosophical differences' with Danny Ainge, the team's executive director of basketball operations.

Ainge has made two major trades since taking over the Celtics last May, and O'Brien, who coached Boston to the Eastern Conference finals in 2001-02, didn't agree with the deal that sent veterans Tony Battie and Eric Williams and young forward Kedrick Brown to Cleveland for Ricky Davis and Chris Mihms.

'Jim has done the best coaching job in the league over the last couple of years,' says Harter, a former University of Oregon head coach and Trail Blazer assistant. 'He coached three different teams this year. He is a great coach and a superior human being, and I couldn't see staying if he is not there.'

Truth is, Harter had to be fired in order to get paid for the final year and a half on his contract.

Assistant John Carroll has taken over as interim head coach, and assistant Lester Conner, the former Oregon State standout, remains on the staff.

Word is that if Boston doesn't win under Carroll, Ainge might look to his former Celtic teammate, Dennis Johnson, as the team's next head coach. Johnson is a scout for the Blazers.

nPortland's Terrell Brandon, who recently retired after an 11-year NBA career, says he is interested in coaching the new Portland Reign of the American Basketball Association.

Flip Saunders, Brandon's coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves, says that surprises him.

'The question everybody always had (about Brandon) was basketball wasn't important to him,' Saunders told the Minneapolis media. 'If you are going to be a coach, you had better love it. If you think you are going to go into it like a regular job, 8 to 4, check out and go home to the movies, you are not going to be in it very long.'

nTNT's Steve Kerr has apologized for referring to Houston's Yao Ming as a 'Chinaman' during a recent broadcast.

'I didn't know it was a derogatory term,' says Kerr, the one-time Blazer guard in his first year of broadcasting after retiring last year as a player. 'I'm sorry that I offended a lot of people.'

Kerr has a Chinese-American sister-in-law and a brother-in-law who teaches Chinese history at Cambridge University.

'Of all people,' he says, 'I should know better.'

ÑKerry Eggers

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