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Brand's starring role has faded with Sixers

Marc J. Spears
Yahoo Sports
Brand's starring role has faded with Sixers
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Elton Brand signed a five-year, $79 million contract with the Sixers in the summer of 2008

Four years ago, Elton Brand(notes) was considered one of the NBA's premier power forwards. He was a member of the Western Conference All-Star team. He was in the midst of helping lead the Los Angeles Clippers within a game of the West finals. He was the rare 20-and-10 guy. He was a star.

Now?

Now Brand can't even bring himself to tune into the All-Star game.

"I haven't watched it since '06," Brand said. "It's tough. It's tough to see guys where you think, 'I can play better than him' or 'I could do this.'

"The young stars end up taking over for the older guys. There are a lot of young guys with a lot of game. I saw it when I was a young guy taking guys' spots. But I'm not ready to concede my spot yet."

Since joining the Philadelphia 76ers in the summer of 2008, Brand has yet to regain the form that made him one of the game's elite forwards. Nearing his 31st birthday, he's averaging 14.1 points this season, a tick above the career-low 13.8 he averaged a year ago. Injuries have slowed him, and he admits that it's taken a while to get his confidence back.

Long accustomed to being a team's primary scorer, Brand has seen his role change from month to month this season with the Sixers.

"It's been a roller coaster from not playing in the fourth quarter to not starting to getting big minutes and being the go-to guy again," Brand said. "It's been an up-and-down year, as it is with the team. It's both sides' [fault], the team and mine. You can't do much playing 18 minutes a game."

First-year Sixers coach Eddie Jordan has brought Brand off the bench in 19 of 53 games this season. In Brand's first nine seasons, he played a reserve role in just five games.

The Sixers went 8-15 with Brand coming off the bench from late November to late January. He moved back into the starting lineup against Dallas on Jan. 22, and the Sixers have gone 10-7 since.

"It was like, 'OK, what are we doing here?' " Brand said about not starting. "The way I saw it is you get your key players going and give them a chance. But it just didn't work out. We kept losing ballgames with that lineup.

"We had a five-game winning streak and we've been playing .500 ball the last 26 games or whatever. But we did improve and I think I had a lot to do with that improvement."

Jordan thinks Brand was able to "recapture his game" coming off the bench after he struggled early in the season.

"We just need him to really notch it up another level for us to get where we need to go," Jordan said.

Brand knows he hasn't made close to the impact that was expected of him when he decided to come to Philadelphia two years ago. After Brand opted out of his contract in the summer of 2008, the Clippers thought he would re-sign to play alongside Baron Davis(notes), who had left Golden State with the belief Brand was staying in L.A. Instead, Brand – who was coming off an Achilles injury that had limited him to eight games in the 2007-08 season – signed a five-year, $79 million contract with the Sixers.

Brand played only 29 games last season in Philadelphia because of a shoulder injury and the Sixers reached the playoffs without him before losing in the first round to the Orlando Magic. Philadelphia entered Friday 6½ games out of the eighth and final playoff seed in the East.

Brand, who returns to the Staples Center on Friday to face the Los Angeles Lakers, said he has "no regrets" about leaving the Clippers. And he's still determined to prove his worth with the Sixers. He feels healthy and says his confidence is back.

"I'm here for the long haul," Brand said. "This story is not over. I'm not one of those guys that lies down and lets it be over. I keep working, keep getting better, get back to where I need to be and where the team needs to be.

"It's going to be like, 'Oh, remember that? He didn't play as well. He was hurt.' But that's going to be all in the past."


Nets stand pat

Already owning about $23 million in salary-cap space for this summer's free-agent market, the New Jersey Nets could have tried to clear another $5 million before the trade deadline to give them enough room to sign two max-level players. But with a few talented young players, along with some draft picks to dangle, the Nets didn't find a deal to their liking.

"We had talks with several teams, but we never came close to completing anything," Nets president Rod Thorn said. "The free-agency market has changed because you have seven teams with $15 million or more under the salary cap. There are a lot of teams who, at least in theory, could sign a max free agent."

Thorn said most of the teams talking to the Nets were focused on acquiring center Brook Lopez(notes) or guards Devin Harris(notes) and Courtney Lee(notes). Thorn considers all three to be key pieces of the Nets' future – regardless of whether Thorn is around to call the shots after the team's sale is completed. The New York Knicks, meanwhile, made deals to allow them to potentially sign two top-tier free agents.

"If we would have made a trade, we would have had to get rid of a real good player in order to get down to where the Knicks got where you have at least the possibility of signing two players," Thorn said. "They gave up a lot to get there. Just because you get there doesn't mean you're going to sign people under the salary cap. You've got to look at the environment and try to make the most rational decision you can.

"But to me, for us to give up a real good player, in order to have the ability to sign two guys is not the way to go. Who says we are going to get a player as good as the one we have to give up? We've got to look at our roster now that we've played virtually three-fourths of the year. Lopez, Harris and Lee are players that just stood out to us over the course of the year, guys who can be on a rotation on a good team and are all relatively young."


Curry chasing Evans

While Sacramento Kings guard Tyreke Evans(notes) has been leading the Rookie of the Year race much of the season, Golden State's Stephen Curry(notes) is making a strong push to try to sneak by him.

Evans has been consistent since the start of the season, averaging 20.3 points, 5.4 assists and 4.8 rebounds through 52 games. Curry, however, won Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors for January after averaging 19.1 points, 5.1 assists and 4.4 rebounds. He is playing even better in February, averaging 21 points, 7.6 assists and 5.4 rebounds.

Before the season began, Curry predicted he would win Rookie of the Year.

Evans "has been in front the whole year, but there is a lot of season left," Curry said. "I have a lot of opportunities to make a big run. I'm not really worried about it. Whatever happens, happens. I'm just going to try to get better every game. But I'm in the conversation, so that's good.

"In my opinion, I was pretty solid the first two months. [Evans] had an outstanding performance, averaging 20-plus. A lot of attention was on his side early in the year. That's why you play the whole season. Both our teams are struggling, so there is no discrepancy there no matter how well we finish out the season."


Tip-ins

The Sixers have yet to officially announce that Allen Iverson(notes) has played his last game for them, but the players certainly think so. Elton Brand said Iverson was a fine teammate on and off the court, but he's not counting on him to return. Iverson recently took a second leave of absence to be with his ailing young daughter. "He made guys want to play hard," Brand said. "He wasn't late for a meeting or late for a practice. All the [past] stuff you heard wasn't him here. But I don't expect him to come back." … Nuggets assistant coach Adrian Dantley replaced George Karl on the bench for the first time this season Thursday against Golden State. Karl, who is undergoing treatment for throat cancer, is expected to coach the next three games and then Dantley will coach the three following that. … Free agent Larry Hughes(notes) is determined to show he can still be productive in the league after being buried on the New York Knicks' bench. Hughes is getting interest from several teams, his agent Jeff Wechsler told Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. "Larry's got a chip on his shoulder to show everybody he can still play," Wechsler said. Hughes was recently waived after being traded to Sacramento. Sources say the Bobcats could try to sign Hughes. Hughes has ties to coach Larry Brown and general manager Rod Higgins, and the Bobcats need a shooting guard. … Sixers center Francisco Elson(notes) is expected to have his contract bought out before Monday's deadline, so he can be eligible to play in the postseason for another team, a league source said. The Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz are among the teams who could show interest, a source said. The 7-foot center has not reported to the Sixers after recently being acquired from Milwaukee. He is expected to be cleared soon to play after having hernia surgery Feb. 1. …Free-agent forward Mikki Moore(notes) has drawn some interest from teams, even though he'll likely be out another three weeks after having heel surgery. …Sources say the Los Angeles Clippers never had any intention of releasing forward Drew Gooden(notes) after acquiring him from the Washington Wizards. …Veteran Nets forward Tony Battie(notes) is another buyout candidate before Monday. …While Linas Kleiza(notes) is enjoying playing for Greek power Olympiakos, he is open to returning to the NBA next season. The Denver Nuggets restricted free agent has until mid-July to opt out of his contract with Olympiakos. Kleiza is averaging 16.9 points and 7.1 rebounds through 14 Euroleague games. "He's neutral right now," agent Bill Duffy said. …Ohio State junior swingman Evan Turner's stock is rising, but does he have any chance of overtaking Kentucky freshman guard John Wall to become the top pick of the 2010 NBA draft? "Don't think so, but maybe," one longtime NBA scout said. …Twenty-two NBA team executives and scouts, including Atlanta Hawks general manager Rick Sund, were at San Jose State last Monday to scout Seattle University junior forward Charles Garcia. The versatile 6-10, 220-pounder is averaging 19.4 points and 8.3 rebounds this season, but has come off the bench the past four games. While one NBA scout said Garcia will go late first round, another projects him as a mid-to-late second-rounder. …One scout said Texas center Dexter Pittman has digressed significantly since his strong outing against North Carolina on Dec. 19 and projects Pittman to be a late first-round prospect, at best.