Elton Brand retires after 17 NBA seasons

Ball Don't Lie
Elton Brand received one first place MVP vote in 2005-06. (Getty Images)
Elton Brand received one first place MVP vote in 2005-06. (Getty Images)

Elton Brand retired from the NBA on Thursday. The two-time All-Star and 1999-00 co-Rookie of the Year was set to begin his 18th season as a pro with the Philadelphia 76ers this fall when he apparently decided that enough was enough. He will end his career with averages of 15.9 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists.

CSN Philly’s Jessica Camerato was the first to break the news:

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Brand had been part of a rebuilding 76ers core both during this season’s training camp, and the struggle that was the 2015-16 season – a campaign that saw the team win just 10 out of 82 games while leaning heavily on Brand as the only veteran in the team’s locker room to accrue double-digit seasons as an NBA pro.

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In retirement, Elton Brand will join Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Kobe Bryant among those that have decided to walk away from the league in 2016, following careers that spanned nearly two decades.

A standout forward at Duke, Brand was named National Player of the Year during his sophomore season, as he led the squad to the 1999 NCAA championship and a close championship game loss to an upstart Connecticut team. Despite worries about his height – Brand stands at 6-8 with a wingspan closer to that of a typical 7-footer – the Chicago Bulls made Elton the No. 1 pick in the 1999 draft ahead of several other prospects (including Lamar Odom, Steve Francis and Baron Davis) considered to be worthy of the top overall pick at various times during the 1998-99 season.

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Joining a Bulls team that had been ransacked the previous season in order to clear cap space and tank for high end draft picks in the wake of the franchise’s decision to ease Michael Jordan into a retirement he wasn’t fully comfortable with, Brand immediately made the best of a miserable situation. Working with several other rookie teammates (including fellow first round pick Ron Artest) alongside veteran Toni Kukoc, Brand immediately got busy in the NBA’s left low post on his way to a 20.1-point, 10-rebound season as a rookie, earning co-Rookie of the Year honors with Francis.

After the Bulls struck out yet again with free agents during the 2000 offseason, the team decided to extend its rebuilding project while drafting a miniaturized version of Brand (in Iowa State big forward Marcus Fizer) as reward for 1999-00’s 17-win season, while turning Kukoc into lottery pick Jamal Crawford. The team continued to flounder, though, winning just 15 games in spite of Brand repeating his 20-and-10 theatrics.

Faced with yet another tough lottery pick decision in the 2001 draft, the Bulls decided to make life even tougher for themselves in dealing Brand to the Los Angeles Clippers for a pick that turned into high school product Tyson Chandler. Paired on a Clipper outfit that had already won hearts (in spite of winning just 31 games) with its young cadre of talents in 2000-01, Brand (at just age 22) was regarded as the sort of talented old soul destined to push the oft-mocked team over the top.

That heave took a few years, because while Brand continued his wily ways on both ends (Brand routinely averaged well over two blocks per game in Los Angeles, despite his relatively undersized height) the Clippers missed the playoffs during his first four seasons with the team.

Elton understandably attempted to flee the dysfunctional franchise during the summer of 2003, signing a maximum restricted free agent deal with the same Miami Heat club that had just drafted Dwyane Wade, but then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling shocked the league by matching a massive free agent offer for the first time in his tenure as team boss. Odom, for two years Brand’s teammate in Los Angeles, did not get the same treatment and stepped into Brand’s hoped-for salary slot with the Heat.

Ever the mensch, Brand barely made a peep upon his return to the Clippers, though the team languished just out of the Western playoff bracket until an MVP-level season (24.7 points, 10 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.5 blocks, a steal, and just 2.2 turnovers a game) from Elton pushed his team into the second round of the postseason for the first time in Los Angeles Clipper history in 2005-06. That season’s Clippers, which also featured a re-strung year from Sam Cassell and excellent work from Cuttino Mobley, Corey Maggette, Chris Kaman and Shaun Livingston, grew by leaps and bounds as the year moved along – they were much more potent a championship-level force than the team’s 47-win mark suggested.

Cassell and Maggette fell off considerably next season, though, and while Brand averaged 20.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, a steal and nearly three assists per game over 80 contests, the Clippers won just 40 games and missed the playoffs. Brand then suffered a career-altering Achilles tear during an offseason workout during the summer of 2007, and he missed all but eight games in what would turn out to be his final year with the Clippers in 2007-08.

According to the Clippers, Brand promised the team he’d opt-out of his contract during the summer of 2008 in order to allow the team to sign fellow 1999 draftee Baron Davis, which the team eventually succeeded in doing. Elton jumped to the Philadelphia 76ers soon after the Davis acquisition, though, setting off a war of words between the Clippers and Brand’s representatives (who fought for an early termination option, should he re-sign with a team that had made the postseason just once in his seven seasons there) as accusations of verbal contract reneging reigned.

Still attempting to work his way through the fallout of his Achilles tear at age 29, Brand’s decline spiraled even further following a shoulder injury that limited him to just 29 games with his new team. By the time he returned to a rather mediocre Sixers crew in 2009-10, Elton was in his 30s – contributing just over 13 points per game for a 29-win team. The addition of former 76ers top overall pick Doug Collins as coach in 2010 only pushed the team into the realm of the mediocre, and Philadelphia used the amnesty clause to waive the final year and $18 million off of their books for what turned into a disastrous 2012-13 season for the team.

Elton Brand was drafted in the fin de siecle, but you’d never guess it. (Getty Images)
Elton Brand was drafted in the fin de siecle, but you’d never guess it. (Getty Images)

From there, Brand turned into an NBA journeyman, offering yeoman’s work at affordable prices, using his defensive know-how and great touch to act as a “where would we be without this guy?”-contributor for clubs in Dallas and Atlanta. Elton never reminded of the go-to offensive force he once was, as the years peeled away from that stifling Achilles tear, as he failed to top double-digit scoring averages in his final four seasons (starting just 38 games along the way), but his ability to capitalize on his just-about unparalleled batch of basketball know-how was never in question.

This wasn’t unique to Elton Brand’s years spent working as a grizzled veteran, either. Heady years that, seemingly, began while working as Every Bull’s Older Brother while barely old enough to buy beer himself during his first two seasons in Chicago.

To call Brand prenaturally steady would be to miss the point – the man was a ferocious player from the outset and until that Achilles tendon betrayed him. To call him a “throwback” would be to demean him, as if Elton couldn’t beat Kevin Garnett down the floor or out-jump the yearly additions of athletic types acquired to make his lied-about “floor-bound” game come crashing to a halt.

He was a survivor, however, as all those tidy career wrap-ups will get that one correct. Damned as the only Chicago Bull of any lasting permanence in the post-Jordan years (and even that lasted turn lasted shorter than Ron Artest’s time in the city), followed by an uneasy stretch as the best and most accountable member of the Los Angeles Clippers teams that stretched over the bridge between the laughingstock days and the potential-laden (and, eventually, potential-losing) burns of two different Donald Sterling eras, Brand still left you walking away impressed.

And full of admiration for someone who just seemed to be incapable of doing and giving anything less than all that he could muster.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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