UNCASVILLE, Conn. - It began with an innocuous comment that eventually turned into a job offer, one that would have lured 76ers executive vice president Larry Brown away from Philadelphia.

Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers thought he was close to hiring Brown as an assistant before finally being turned down in the summer. He had first broached the subject with Brown in early July.

"We were talking in general, and I threw it out there and hadn't given it any thought to that point," Rivers said last night before the Sixers got their first preseason victory with a 96-78 win over the Celtics at the Mohegan Sun Arena. "When I mentioned it, he stopped talking, which was good."

Brown has declined to comment about the situation, but Rivers was more than happy to shed light on it.

"It was close," he said.

Brown and Rivers talked repeatedly about the job after their initial discussion.

"You know Larry - he will change his mind every 10 minutes," Rivers said. "One day we'd golf and he's doing it, and the next day he wasn't. I gave him time."

Rivers' relationship with Brown began in the 1991-92 season. He was the point guard and Brown the head coach of a Los Angeles Clippers team that made the playoffs.

"We have had a great relationship since he was a coach of mine, which is rare, because most people after they coached me didn't," Rivers said, laughing.

Rivers said he even asked his assistant coaches whether they would have a problem if Brown came aboard. All the assistants were enthusiastic about the idea, he said.

According to Rivers, Brown didn't want to leave the Philadelphia area, where he now lives with his family.

"The whole thing was he was going to leave his wife and kids back home and he has done that before, and at his age and what he has made, he really couldn't justify doing it," Rivers said. "And he was right. But I thought he still might do it because he loves coaching."

It takes a secure head coach to offer a Hall of Fame coach a job as an assistant.

"As a coach, your job is to get whoever you can who can help your team win, and if you are insecure about who you are hiring, you're probably not the right coach," Rivers said.

Just as secure is Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks. While many outside the organization have painted Brown as a coach-in-waiting, Cheeks has sought his advice.

"There are things he knows I don't know," Cheeks said. "I seek out things from him and look forward to talking to him because he is a knowledgeable guy."

Notes. Sixers rookie Jason Smith started at center for the second game in a row. He scored 16 points and pulled down nine rebounds in his best preseason performance. Cheeks said that Smith and rookie center Herbert Hill have been two of the team's most pleasant surprises. . . . Rivers gave Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce the night off. . . . Andre Iguodala had 14 points, four rebounds and five assists before fouling out late in the fourth quarter. . . . Willie Green and Rodney Carney, who are battling for the starting shooting guard spot, each had 14 points. . . . Ray Allen led Boston with 16 points. . . . Sixers point guard Kevin Ollie, who attended the University of Connecticut and still lives in the state, said he had 38 ticket requests. Ollie, who missed three of the first four preseason games with a groin strain, entered the game late in the first quarter to a nice ovation. . . . Center Samuel Dalembert (stress fracture, left foot) and forward Louis Amundson (hip) did not make the trip.