Brand New

by October 31, 2008

by Matt Caputo

Over the summer, I spent some time following Elton Brand around the State of New York. We spent chunks of two days together discussing his life, career and where he wants to take both of those. All quotes from Elton in this story came from the series of interviews that served as the basis of the Elton B.E. Brand“Working Class,” my feature in SLAM 123.

For Elton Brand, most of it had to do with a homecoming. There was some talk about contract specifics and the like, but in the end it came down to location…location, location, location. Weighing out the pros and cons of walking away from a contract renewal in LA, Brand couldn’t help but to jump at the chance to come back east–effectively home–and help make a playoff team better. Although the Sixers lost their first game of the season in Toronto, Brand is showing signs of being very comfortable in his new surroundings.

“I don’t want to say over night because we still got a young team. It’s not like Boston, when they got together, they were all veterans from different teams. The P.J. Browns and Sam Cassells. In Philly we’ve got a run-and-gun kind of team of younger guys,” Brand told SLAM when asked about how quick he’d impact his new squad while being interviewed for SLAM 123. “You got the Pistons, who are a mainstay in the Eastern Conference, they’re vets. They know how to win and won it a few years ago. Boston won it last year, I don’t know if we’re going to reach the upper-echelon right away. Orlando has been playing together for a while. Jermaine O’Neal is in Toronto. So the East has gotten a lot better.”

In the Sixers second game, a hilarious 116-87 win over the still spinning New York Knicks, Brand finished with 24 points, 14 boards, 4 blocked shots and 2 assists. In a shade more than 30 minutes on the court, Brand gave fans a taste of what the Sixers will look like at their best. He provided a punch early by scoring down low and immediately began making plays on the defensive end. Even as the Knicks cut the lead to less than 10 in the third quarter, Brand played a big role in keeping their opponents at a distance nailing jumpers.

“I thought I played good defense. I had a hand in his face,” said Zach Randolph, who had the tall order to guard Brand in the Philadelphia home opener. “He had a real good game, I had a hand in his face, but he just hit a lot of tough shots.”

It’s his ability to hit tough shots and make plays in the paint that got him to Duke and then to the pros, so, it’s a familiar position for Big E.B. In Philly, he’ll have the benefit of playing with both Andre Iguoudala and former Clipper teammate, Andre Miller. While it’s only game 2, and despite the fact that Iguodala only tallied seven points in 30 minutes against the Knicks, Brand is well aware that how well he blends in with his new teammates is the key to the Sixers success and that that in itself is a learning process.

“I think I bring that post presence that is going to command a double-team and allow for guys to get better shots. Iguodala averaged 19 points last year and Andre Miller averaged 18 points but he (Miller) had to go get those points and he’s one of the most prolific passers that there is,” Brand said back in July. “I feel like I can give the guys that outlet. I command the double team, which means they’re going to have to come get me and that leaves some mismatches on the other side of the court. With our speed and athleticism, we can definitely take advantage of that.”

Brand must remain healthy in order for the Sixers plans for his addition to work. He’s never quite been able to play in all 82 games, but if he remains available the Eastern Conference just got a lot more exciting. While Philadelphia is a ton of basketball away from being a sure thing for an extended stay in the Playoffs this year, Brand is realistically optimistic that he’s in the right place.

“I’ve been in this league almost 10 years. It’s like amazing to me. All the old heads, O.G. cats and vets all told me that it goes by fast. These young guys will have us hanging up the hi-tops someday too,” Brand said over the summer. “Seeing Paul Pierce–he would work out with us in L.A.–get his championship last year and know how hard he worked. Just two years ago, they were in like last place. We went in there and smacked them up; Rondo, Perkins the center, Paul–that team without those two guys was like a joke. We smacked them up. We killed them. The next year, they were in the championship.”