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News » 76ers F Elton Brand eager for comeback

76ers F Elton Brand eager for comeback

76ers F Elton Brand eager for comebackPHILADELPHIA (AP) - Elton Brand finally began to feel like his old All-Star self at a Los Angeles gym where summer pickup games featured some of the NBA's top stars. Brand, Paul Pierce, Ron Artest, Emeka Okafor all played for hours, usually with no refs, banging and shoving and dishing out all kinds of abuse.

Those rugged games prepped Brand like no solo workouts could.

Brand had the power and explosiveness from his left leg that had all but vanished after he ruptured his Achilles' tendon in 2007. He could make forceful chest passes and snare rebounds without pain because his surgically repaired right shoulder was nearly 100 percent recovered.

Brand grinded out six weeks of pickup games and responded like a 20-10 player ready to prove to the Philadelphia 76ers that their faith in him - and the $80 million contract he signed last year - will be rewarded in his second season. If Brand can post the kind of numbers close to when he averaged a double-double in six of his first seven seasons, the Sixers have a shot at building on their 41-41 record and first-round playoff elimination a year ago.

"No pun intended, but there's a lot of pressure on my shoulders," Brand said at Sixers media day on Monday. "I know what I was brought in here to do, and I look forward to that challenge."

Making plays in pickup games won't mean much when the Sixers open training camp on Tuesday. Brand will have to show his teammates and first-year coach Eddie Jordan that he's all the way back after playing just 37 games the past two years.

That's a lot of missed time for a 30-year-old power forward.

"The biggest thing you lost is the physicality," Brand said. "You lose that will to kind of just bang and hit people, getting hit. Once you're injured, you're thinking, 'OK, I don't want my shoulder to get hit.' Or, 'Can I jump off this leg into a guy to get this foul?"'

Brand then pointed to his head, and said, "That's all up here."

He can unwind some of the mental kinks during training camp and the preseason. While most veterans put their game on cruise control when the games don't count, Brand will treat the tuneups as something more meaningful. He'll need the minutes to work on his conditioning, and the big plays to verify he can still knock around down low with the big boys.

"You lose it once you get hurt," Brand said. "But once you get the physical grind of the game, you start to appreciate that again. You can add that back to your game. Then everything else is secondary."

All the Sixers got from Brand in the first season of a five-year deal was 13.8 points and 8.8 rebounds in 29 games - a steep decline from the 20.3 points and 10.2 boards he averaged in his first nine seasons.

Brand, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft out of Duke, was a helpless spectator as the Sixers were eliminated in the first-round by Eastern Conference champion Orlando in six games. He plans to be the difference maker this season on one of the youngest teams in the league.

"I'm ready to go, add my piece to what the guys already know they can do," Brand said.

The brief glimpse Sixers fans got last season of Brand integrated with the rest of the team left them wondering if Philly was on the hook for an $80 million bust. The up-tempo style that sent them into the playoffs in 2007 was largely abandoned in November and December as the Sixers tried to tailor their game around Brand and the halfcourt game.

"We didn't have him long enough to know how he'll help the team," 76ers president Ed Stefanski said.

Andre Iguodala got off to a miserable start - then saw his numbers rocket once Brand went out. He only averaged 13 points over the first 17 games of the season, as he struggled to make the adjustment for Philadelphia's go-to scorer to playing wingman to Brand. Iguodala finished the season averaging 18.8 points and played like a future All-Star.

Iguodala said it was unfair to blame Brand for the Sixers' early struggles. Instead, he poked a hole at former coach Maurice Cheeks' gameplan.

"We didn't really have a concrete plan," Iguodala said. "I think we had a plan A, but not a plan B, C and so forth. It was pound it inside and see what happens from there. Once that was shut down, it was kind of hectic. Once we got in that good flow, things started to work. We can't just say it was Elton."

Fans can. Critics can. And Brand heard it from everywhere that something wasn't clicking on offense. The Sixers signed Brand last summer so they could make a deep run in the playoffs and return to prominence after getting stuck in mediocrity since reaching the 2001 NBA Finals. He needs to show their investment was worth the hefty price.

"He looks 100 percent to me," Iguodala said.

It's time for Brand to prove it.

NOTES: One year after asking for a trade, center Samuel Dalembert says he wants to stay in Philadelphia. "This is where I am. It's not bad or miserable or anything like that."

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: September 29, 2009


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