With the NBA season kicking off, one of its best veterans has announced his retirement.
Elton Brand will retire as a member of the Sixers, a team for which he played five of his 17 seasons.
As a UNC fan of more than three decades, I don’t usually have good things to say about Duke players (yeah I’m talking about you, Wojo, Paulus, Scheyer and Dahntay), but Brand has been everything a franchise could want from a player.
I tried Googling Elton Brand scandal, and the only thing I saw were references to other players. The most scandalous thing I saw was his divorce after nine years of marriage, and hey, I’ve been there twice.
Instead, let’s look at his production as a player. Brand had six seasons where he averaged 20 or more points, and three more years with 17.5 or more points.
He grabbed double-digit rebounds in six seasons and eight or more boards in 11 seasons.
On defense he averaged a steal a game and 1.7 blocks per game. He had seven straight years of two blocks a game and finishes his career in the top 25 all-time for the NBA.
Quite impressive for a 6-foot-8 forward who was once considered too small to bang inside.
Back in 1997, Coach K was talking about how much better his team would be when a certain freshman post player returned from injury. I thought it was odd for him to be discussing an unknown freshman with such high expectations.
This was a team with Shane Battier, Trajan Langdon, Chris Carawell, and Roshown McLeod. Duke won its first nine games without him.
Then Brand showed up in time for conference play, and Duke went 15-1 and went all the way to the Final Four.
The next year Duke went 37-1 before losing to UConn in the finals. Brand posted 18 points, 10 boards and two blocks before becoming the number one overall pick in the draft. He was taken ahead of fellow future all-stars like Baron Davis, Lamar Odom, Richard Hamilton, Andre Miller, Shawn Marion and Andrei Kirilenko.
He lived up to his high billing by being co-rookie of the year with Steve Francis.
In his first two seasons he posted 20 points and 10 boards both times. Yet, he wasn’t named to the All-Star Game either time, and then after the season, he was traded to the lowly Clippers.
The player he was traded for? Tyson Chandler. Not the rebounding, shot-blocking Tyson Chandler who we know today, but a 7-foot teen who said he wanted to play small forward and shoot threes.
Even though he’s four inches taller than Brand, Chandler has never been the shot blocker or low-post threat that Brand was.
In seven seasons in Los Angeles (the prime of his career), the Clippers only won half their games once.
His point guard changed almost every year: Jeff McInnis, Andre Miller, Marko Jaric, Sam Cassell (36 and at the end of his career), Shaun Livingston. None of these guys came anywhere close to the 10 assists a game that Chris Paul now dishes out. Which meant that Brand had to work hard for every basket.
His effort turned into some very lucrative contracts. By the end of last season, Brand had amassed a whopping $168 million for his career.
And look at how he finishes that career. Brand finished the 2015 season with the Hawks, and at age 35 he found no contract offers. He was willing to ease into retirement until Philadelphia came calling halfway into the season.
You know the story. The Sixers decided to tank and accumulate draft picks. They managed to get three centers in the first round, but injuries and bad chemistry turned the team into a laughingstock.
The youngest of the three, another Duke product, had issues. Jahlil Okafor, 19, was involved in a couple of incidents in a bar. And he was caught speeding in excess of 100 mph.
Brand only played in 17 games and scored only four points per contest, but he became a veteran presence in a very, very young locker room.
When Carl Landry went down with an injury, Brand became the only person on the roster older than 27. Thirteen players 24 or younger played at least eight games last season.
The Sixers were upset with Okafor and were looking for trade partners. But other teams wouldn’t offer anything good because they knew the Sixers had no leverage. The team also had Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, so Okafor was expendable.
Or so they thought at the time.
Word out of Philly now is that Okafor is much improved as a player and has grown more mature after months of being around Brand, who he called an older brother.
Now the Sixers are looking to trade Noel because Okafor and Embiid seemed to have developed a rapport and chemistry.
With his work done, Brand is stepping down so that another young player can have his roster spot. A class act to the end.
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.