NBA: Brand puts injuries behind him

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Associated Press
PHILADELPHIA ó Elton Brand is ready to give the Philadelphia 76ers what they paid for.
When the oft-injured power forward arrives at training camp in late September, Brand will be healthy and eager to put the last two abbreviated seasons way behind him. Quickly labeled a bust in his first season in Philly, Brand believes he can return to form and be the double-double presence in the post that earned him two All-Star berths and an $80 million contract from the Sixers.
“It’s been an insane two years,” Brand said by phone on Wednesday night. “It all pushes you to be better. I want to show the fans. They don’t know. I’m excited to really show them what kind of player they really have and what kind of team they really have.”
The Sixers only saw the occasional game that showcased what type of player they signed in Brand.
Brand hurt his shoulder Dec. 17 against Milwaukee, opted for rest and rehabilitation instead of surgery, and returned after missing 16 games over a six-week layoff.
He wasn’t the same player in his brief return ó showing hesitancy with the ball and a cautiousness when banging down low ó and had season-ending shoulder surgery in early February.
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 ó a steep decline from the 20.3 points and 10.2 boards he averaged in his first nine seasons.
Even worse, Brand had to hear criticism that the Sixers were better off without him. The Sixers stumbled to a slow start as they ditched their transition game for a halfcourt pace to accommodate Brand. They tried hard to adapt their play around Brand, who thrives more in a set offense, instead of incorporating him into their fast-paced style of play.
“I had a feeling that it would have worked out,” Brand said. “I think a good mix would bode well for the playoffs and that’s what I’m bringing. That’s what I brought.”
Brand says after rehab sessions on his right shoulder, he’s regained full stability and range of motion. He also strengthened his left leg, which was weakened after he ruptured his left Achilles’ tendon in August 2007. Brand played in only eight games in his final season with the Clippers, and looked slower around the basket last year than he did in his prime with Los Angeles.
The 30-year-old Brand concedes he wasn’t all the way back at the start of last season.
“It wasn’t all the way there, but it is now,” he said. “You hear it takes 18 months and all that stuff and you don’t know. But you do now. I like to play aggressive, and that banging, that balance, I didn’t have it from having that time off.”
Brand believes he could have played in the NBA finals had the Sixers advanced that far in the playoffs. But they were bounced in the first round for the second straight season, and lost free agent point guard Andre Miller to Portland.
“Not being able to play, that was the toughest part, especially in the playoffs,” Brand said. “The team’s out there, they’re working hard and you’re trying to root for them. But not being out there to feel that crowd, feel that excitement, that was the part that really hurt the most.”
While Shaquille O’Neal was traded to Cleveland, Vince Carter joined Orlando, and Rasheed Wallace went to Boston, Philadelphia’s biggest pickup has been 3-point specialist Jason Kapono. Kapono’s a needed piece, but not the kind of player that will bring a title to Philly.
“This year we’re not going to have as high expectations, but I know personally, I’m ready,” Brand said.
Brand pumped Andre Iguodala as an All-Star candidate and believes Lou Williams can successfully run the point. Brand also believes he can help bring out the best in erratic center Samuel Dalembert. The 6-foot-11 Haitian has never developed a consistent offensive game and his choppy play has long plagued the Sixers.
“If I have to play the five, I’m all for it,” Brand said. “I did it in the West and the West is much better. But I’m going into it like that’s Sam’s spot. He’s been working hard and he’s prepared to hold that spot. I think that would be the best opportunity for us to win in the long run. But I could certainly play the five.”
Brand was recently in Philadelphia for workouts with new coach Eddie Jordan, who taught the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft the finer points of the Princeton offense.
The rehab is finished. All that’s left is waiting for camp.
Elton Brand is finally healed.
“If the season started today, I’d be ready,” Brand said. “Training camp, I’m ready. I’m revved up.”