Brand has been a good soldier for the Sixers

Elton Brand struggled in Game 2, but vowed to fix problems in Game 3 against Heat.
Elton Brand struggled in Game 2, but vowed to fix problems in Game 3 against Heat.
Posted: April 20, 2011

FOLLOWING yesterday's practice at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, 76ers forward Elton Brand wore a huge bag of ice around the back of his left hand and a menacing scowl on his face.

He certainly is not happy how this opening-round Eastern Conference playoff series with the Miami Heat has progressed. In the 21-point blowout in Game 2, Brand scored only three points, his lone field goal in five attempts coming on a goaltending call. His normal work station, that area 10 to 15 feet from the basket, was pushed to an uncomfortable location farther out, leaving Brand virtually nonexistent at the offensive end.

Brand, however, will correct that for Game 3. It's his way. He fights and claws for everything he needs to do to make himself and his team better. If his numbers don't improve throughout the series, it certainly won't be because the 12-year vet has given up in frustration. It's not in him to do that.

This was sort of a signature season for Brand. At 32, he is the elder statesman on a team filled with players who would have trouble growing playoff beards. He has been an All-Star, gotten big contracts, played in 800 regular-season games. Yet he is the player who runs to the bench when he's substituted for, who leaps to his feet when coach Doug Collins calls his name, who grabs one of the youngsters around the neck during a game and imparts his wisdom. And he is the one who adores the fact that his mother travels the country to see as many games as she can.

"He's a unique guy on a lot of levels," said Sixers assistant coach Quin Snyder, who recruited Brand to Duke when he was an assistant there. "He and I have a foundation that was built when he was around 18 and I was, like, 28. Seeing him now and watching him and how he carries himself makes me reflect back. He has always been able to connect with a lot of people. He's very bright, though he wouldn't be one to tell you that. He's got a great sense of humor and has a unique quality that allows him to interact with a lot of different people, and that defines a winner."

As a person, Brand is indeed that. He is a genuinely nice person. Some have said that when it comes to ball boys and locker-room personnel, no one is more appreciative (with the wallet). He knows, and maybe even appreciates, what the media's job is, often making sure they have what they need before he leaves the locker room.

And this season, Collins certainly wouldn't have been able to make the 14-game turnaround without Brand's play or leadership.

"You just have to stay in the moment," Brand said when asked to describe all he has been through in his career, from being Chicago's choice with the No. 1 overall pick in 1999 to 7 years with the Clippers to now with the Sixers for his third year. "There's a lot of pride involved. You do the best you can and hopefully your teammates and coaches will do the best they can and good things will happen. If you don't go hard and you don't give that effort, 3-13 turns into 3-23 and then into a terrible season, and then after the 82nd game, you are going home."

As much as Brand craves a championship and still desires the numbers (20 points, 10 rebounds) that defined him when he signed his 5-year, $80 million contract with the Sixers in the summer of 2008, he has embraced the role Collins has carved for him and even improved in the areas his coach requested, namely defense. Knowing this organization is building for the future, Brand takes pride in helping that process.

"I think we're headed in the right direction, and it's good for these young guys to get the playoff experience," said Brand, who has played in only 14 career postseason games. "I'm hoping we can shock the world, but obviously that's going to be tough. It's fun just watching the development of these young guys. There have been times when we've started four guys under 23 years of age. So they're going to get better; we're going to get better as a team. I can see the growth. Other teams are getting older, and we've beaten some solid teams. We've beaten Atlanta, we've beaten the Celtics, we've beaten the Bulls twice. Our confidence level when we see these teams next year should be real high. We're a playoff team, we beat these teams, and we'll have the feeling that we're supposed to win. We didn't have that feeling last year."

Despite the 0-2 hole to the Heat, Brand will forge ahead. It's all he knows how to do.

"There's no doubt he wants to score, but you never hear anything out of him when he doesn't get the number of attempts he wants," Snyder said. "This year, you're seeing who he is. I think that people can say whatever they like about people, but it's how they carry themselves. The things that he's been willing to do and embraced as far as how he's grown as a player are ways to help our team. We require him to make sacrifices. He takes pride in passing now. He will do whatever is needed and asked."

A lot of that has to do with the respect Brand has for Collins.

"He's meant a lot to me," Brand said. "He's held everybody accountable, held me accountable. Even in practice he told me, 'I need you to hit these shots.' I never had pressure to hit a shot in practice before. With Doug, from the top man down, he was on us. And I think that's what got us to this level."

Although a title has escaped him during his career so far, it remains Brand's ultimate desire.

"This is my job and I love it," he said. "I'm blessed to have it, so I'm going to give it my all. It will never be an effort thing. It can be an injury thing, but as long as I'm physically fit and able to work on my game, I'll sleep in the gym. I'll sleep for 2 hours and put as many hours as I can on the court to help my team, that's what I'll do.

"The dream of being here in Philly and being a part of a championship team is what's on my mind. If it happens, no matter what type of role I would play in, that wouldn't matter. My dream is to bring a championship here for these fans. I dream of it a lot." *

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