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News » Bob Ford: 76ers miss Brand - at least a healthy one


Bob Ford: 76ers miss Brand - at least a healthy one


Bob Ford: 76ers miss Brand - at least a healthy one
When fans wonder why 76ers general manager Ed Stefanski took last year's pricey plunge on free-agent power forward Elton Brand - whose contribution to the team this season was both brief and uninspiring - Stefanski can direct them to film of the current playoff series with the Orlando Magic.

What the Sixers have lacked in falling behind an underwhelming Orlando team is an answer, or at least the suggestion of an answer, to the low-post presence of Magic center Dwight Howard.

They won't have that problem tonight in Game 6, as the league gave Howard the night off for the elbow tossed at Samuel Dalembert on Tuesday. Still, in a larger sense, the problem remains and the Sixers' solution has been found wanting.

In the absence of a player who can assist the overmatched Dalembert with honest defense or accept the burden himself, the Sixers have gone to a cobbled frontcourt rotation that employs seldom-used retreads in Theo Ratliff and Donyell Marshall.

To be kind, the results have been mixed. Ratliff and Marshall, averaging a combined 27 minutes in the series, have, along with Dalembert and Reggie Evans, used a lot of fouls in the effort of limiting Howard. That tactic, however understandable, has produced some ugly Basketball, little corresponding offense, and three losses in five games.

Tuesday's 91-78 defeat, by far the most emphatic of the series, was typical. Ratliff, Marshall, and Evans played a total of 31 minutes, for which the Sixers got seven fouls and six points in return. Ugh.

Would a healthy Brand be doing better? Almost certainly. For one thing, because of his solid career credentials, he would have likely been the beneficiary of borderline calls more often than the herd of china-breaking bulls being sent out at the moment.

That falls into the category of aimless speculation, however. Brand was never fully healthy with the Sixers , even before the shoulder separation that effectively ended his season, notwithstanding a short, ill-fated comeback attempt.

Brand himself said his biggest regret was that the fans didn't ever see the real Elton Brand. The final stage of his recovery from Achilles-tendon surgery was still taking place as the season opened, then he was hampered increasingly by a chronic hamstring strain and then the shoulder injury.

Even so, Brand averaged 17.4 points and 10.3 rebounds in the first 18 games of the season before those problems overtook him.

Of course, the Sixers were 8-10 in that stretch as the team struggled to meld Brand's half-court talents with the open-floor skills of the other players. The inability to successfully mix the ingredients ultimately cost coach Maurice Cheeks his job.

Tony DiLeo was a reasonable replacement, and the team played better upon his promotion. Whether that was a result of the presence of DiLeo or the absence of Brand, however, is a question that hasn't been answered.

Unlike Cheeks, DiLeo never dealt with the conundrum of blending the two styles. He got the team playing better defense - more active, more trapping, more helping - got it into its transition offense, and hoped for the best. In other words, the team did what it did during the second half of the previous season under Cheeks.

So the irony of bemoaning the Sixers' lack of an Elton Brand in the playoffs is that if things had kept going as they were with Brand, the team wouldn't even have made the playoffs.

It's a puzzler, and you can put it in Stefanski's in-box, along with the unsolved mystery of who will be the dependable perimeter shooter the Sixers desperately need, and, more to the point, who will have the job of figuring it all out in the fall.

Stefanski has said the coaching situation will be addressed after the season. He has done nothing to indicate which way he is leaning, but DiLeo is coaching in the playoffs like a man trying to remain in the position.

If an opening-round series win against a favored opponent would secure the job, DiLeo appears to be throwing every available anchor into the water to offset the receding tide.

There is no other way, for instance, to explain the disappearance of rookie forward Marreese Speights, who has played a total of 15 minutes in the series and none at all in the last three games.

This is a team pointed toward the future, and the path to that future is through players like Speights, not Theo Ratliff and Donyell Marshall. Unless the front office is expecting to win the NBA title this season, the franchise would be better served by giving Speights - who averaged 22 minutes in the last 10 games of the regular season - some valuable playoff experience.

It's true that he can't play a lick of defense and might hurt himself trying to foul Howard, but, hey, the kid has to learn sometime. He'll probably play more tonight with Howard out.

The strain also showed a bit Tuesday night when DiLeo criticized the referees for letting Howard linger in the lane, which is very uncharacteristic for a guy who usually offers little beyond the standard patter.

It's fine to take that shot, but do it when the series is starting, not when it's just about over, not to mention that it's hard to claim higher moral ground while employing the cynical Hack-a-Howard strategy the Sixers have chosen.

Ah, well. It's been a great series while it lasted, except if you actually had to watch it. If only Elton Brand were around, things would be different.

The only problem is, just like last year, we don't know if they'd be better.

Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com. Read his blog at http://philly.com/postpatterns.


Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 30, 2009

 

 
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