While the future of the Sixers rests squarely on the shoulders of Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Marreese Speights, Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday, the 2009-2010 season will most likely be defined by the biggest acquisition from 2008. A guy we haven't heard a whole lot from since he went down in February, Elton Brand.
We really haven't heard much from Brand in months. A press release about his surgery, another about his rehab. Now, an article from the AP with a few quotes from Brand and word that he met with Eddie Jordan to discuss the finer points of the Princeton Offense, but not much of substance. What do we make of the silence?
Honestly, I think it's a sign of class from Brand. There's been so much talk about him, mostly about his contract being a mistake, his injury history, how the Sixers were better without him last season. Through it all, he stayed in the background, he took care of his health, and he got himself ready. I sat through two home games at the Wach in April and saw Brand sitting behind the Sixers bench. You could see that it was killing him to miss those games, but he was there. How many big money players would've thrust themselves in front of the camera, or made it about them, somehow (Kevin Garnett, anyone?). Brand didn't. He let the team play their game, and he waited, patiently.
Pretty much every NBA talking head is counting Brand out. I haven't seen one column written by a national guy saying that Brand's return could mean an improvement for the Sixers. Everyone is simply taking a 29-game sample from last season as proof positive that Brand is either done, a bad fit in Philly or both.
Up to this point, Brand has quietly gone about his business, because he realizes there's only one way to muzzle the doubters, and that's on the floor. Put yourself in Elton's shoes for a second. 24 months ago you were an elite NBA player by just about every standard. One freak injury costs you a season, you work your ass off to get back, then you head East to play for a young, exciting playoff team. 29 games later, another freak injury robs you of another year of your prime. There are two ways to handle this situation, you can sulk, cash your checks and play out the string, or you can work your ass off to come out and prove to everyone that you are that player from three seasons ago. I have to believe EB has chosen the latter, everything we know about him screams that he's that type of guy.
It's very, very easy to overlook Brand, or bemoan the signing, but as we near training camp, keep this in mind. Yes, the Sixers lost Andre Miller and they're asking a couple of young guys to fill his shoes, but that won't be the biggest difference between the roster in game 6 of the first round of the playoffs last year to opening night this season. The biggest difference will be #42, a legitimate star, fully healthy for the first time in a Sixers uniform, with an awful lot to prove. I have a feeling once that ball is tossed in the air on opening night, Brand won't seem so quiet anymore.