In 2011-12, the last season before the descent of the Philadelphia 76ers into The Tank Era, Elton Brand was the team’s strong veteran floor leader. He organized his teammates on defense and led by example. When a basket was need, he would hit the jump shot from the elbow. When a defensive stop was needed, he made it. He was a power forward who sometimes played center when that’s where he was needed. And then Elton Brand had to move on, all the while expressing his desire to remain in Philadelphia and help the young players build a stronger franchise.
It’s true that Elton Brand’s four years in Philadelphia weren’t as statistically productive or as offensively dominant as his first nine in Chicago and Los Angeles. He averaged 13.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game with the Sixers after going 20 and 10 per game in his previous seasons. But the story isn’t told completely by the stats.
Doug Collins sang the praises of Elton Brand early and often. When Collins took over as coach after the disastrous 2009-10 season (the year of the ill-fated Princeton offense), one of his first pronouncements was that he wanted to talk to Elton Brand. He knew that Brand’s strong veteran presence could help vault the team to a level of success. He also knew that the previous regime had not respected Brand, relegating him to a non-starting and ill-defined role. Brand responded well, and the Sixers were back in the playoffs in the first year of the Collins era. Unfortunately, the eighth playoff slot in the East meant a match-up against the Miami Heat, which finished off the Sixers in five games. In the fourth game of that series, won by the Sixers, Elton Brand dug in and played like the solid pro he was. The good memory of that series for most Sixers fans will be the spectacular three-point shot by Lou Williams that put the home team on top in Game 4. For me, the better memory is the play that followed, when LeBron James knifed into the teeth of the Sixers defense, only to be turned back by Elton Brand, assuring victory.
During the next season, the over-achieving Sixers came to within one win of a trip to the Eastern Conference finals, and again it was Brand who, playing with confidence and a redefined game, gave Philadelphia a creditable front line and enabled the Sixers to shock the Chicago Bulls and give the Celtics all they could handle (a “pain in the ass,” Doc Rivers memorably called the 76ers).
Elton Brand is the kind of guy who shows up for work and does his job well. With the Bulls and the Clippers, he was the go-to guy in the post. When those skills diminished after injury, he modified his game by concentrating on passing and hitting mid-range jump shots. He was a tough defender and solid rebounder. Doug Collins saw this and made it work for the team. The excitement of the Spring of 2012 would not have happened without Elton Brand’s contributions.
Now Elton Brand is retiring after 16 years in the NBA. I hope his number will be retired somewhere. His future is bright, no matter what he chooses to do. Maybe he’ll be a coach. I’ll always be a fan of his. He was an underappreciated Sixer.