1-On-1 With Brand: Bearing Mavs Gifts
I bring up the 2008 press conference story to Elton Brand and he provides just the right updated punchline.
"Hopefully,'' he tells me, "I can bring a present to Dallas.''
The DB.com Video Visit with Elton Brand:
Back in 2008, he arrived in Philly with gifts but also with a hefty five-year contract worth $82 million. The Dallas Mavericks are able to take over Brand's deal (with one year left) post-amnesty while paying only $2 million of the $18 mil he's still owed. So there is an argument that he was overpaid in Philly …
And yet he was never disliked. Never really booed by the Santa Claus haters.
When he moved to the Sixers, he was still recovering from the Achilles surgery that ruined his end with the Clippers, where he was – when healthy -- a 24/10 guy and an MVP candidate. He was great enough that he is only half-joking on Monday when he mentions his favorite Clippers set when he and fellow Mavs newcomer Chris Kaman teamed there:
"He would pass it to me,'' Brand says, "and I would shoot it. I'd like to keep that tradition alive (in Dallas).''
But in 2008-09 in Philly, he didn't shoot it as well. He didn't possess the same athleticism. He wasn't an $80 mil player. He didn't quite get to 14 points and nine boards a game. … and then he underwent shoulder surgery.
And yet … as was the case in LA when he was credited with being the team's hardest worker, Brand was never labeled a malingerer. Big money, and a bad Achilles and now a bad shoulder? Why not cruise a little bit?
Brand never did that, and it's one of the reasons he appeals to Dallas. His intelligence (evident in our one-on-one visit, I think) and ability to re-invent himself has made him a slightly less explosive player but still a crafty one.
By the 2010-'11 season, the Sixers were coached by Doug Collins. And suddenly Brand was effective as a mid-range shooter, was a go-to guy as a defender, was even a rim protector, something he did well again last season while playing center more than most people realize.
When someone asks the new Mavs how many NBA championship rings they own, all the fellas – O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, Darren Collison and Brand – all hold up their hands and form the "O'' sign. But Brand is a winner in his ability to adjust from nightly stardom to "when-it's-needed'' stardom. He demonstrated that in the playoffs two years ago when he led Philly to its challenge of Miami (he was good for 15.6 points and 8.4 on 54.8-percent shooting in the series.).
Brand, now 33, probably cannot do that on a nightly basis in Dallas, but again, part of his job definition here is that he won't be required to do so. A winner? There are advanced stats that show Brand to be a top-10 player in the NBA as a plus/minus performer in the low post. His PER when playing center last year was two points better than his opponent. Here, he'll come off the bench, play some 5 and some 4, join Dirk and Marion as classy elder statesmen on a suddenly young team (even Kaman, jokes coach Rick Carlisle, "is younger than he looks'') and guard bigs.
Elton can guard Dwight Howard. Kinda. Seriously. Last time they played each other, Brand of the Sixers limited Howard of the Magic to a 4-of-14 shooting night. (Dwight got his 20 points, and 23 rebounds, too. So I didn't say Elton can stop Howard; just that he can guard him.)
Elton can still get it done as a double-double guy on offense, too, which he did late last season while working against the athletic Atlanta front line – and putting up a 25/10/3.
I bet you fans, teammates and coaches, were there no cap, would've happily continued to write the Brand check to keep him in Philly.
Instead, he'll become a worker bee in Dallas. Kaman won't just pass him the ball (at least not unless Dirk is completely covered) and expectations won't hover anywhere near 24/10. Memories of Brand as the first overall pick in the 1999 Draft have faded, right?
"Definitely, we want to keep Dirk's window open as long as possible to win another championship," Brand said, acknowledging the shift in roles from his previous basketball life. "We're hungry because we don't have championships and he does. Hopefully, we make just job a lot easier."
That would require something from Brand in the order of "gifts.''
"Don't worry,'' Brand tells me. "I've still got a lot left in the tank.''
Discuss this story on DB.com Boards!