76ers suddenly have reason for optimism

Elton Brand looked lean enough to fit into his old Duke

uniform.

After spending previous summers rehabbing busted knees and

aching shoulders, Brand was healthy this offseason. He ran, he

swam, he played limited basketball to stay fresh for the

Philadelphia 76ers upcoming season. Brand feels like, well, a brand

new man.

He shed enough weight to dip under the 255-pound mark for the

first time in years and finished below his expected time on a

Monday morning mile run.

While Brand underwent a physical makeover, Andre Iguodala had a

professional one.

A defensive stopper who won a gold medal with the U.S. team at

the world championship, Iguodala got a slice of a teamwork-title

method that he wants to rub off on a young Sixers team that boasts

perhaps the youngest starting backcourt in the league.

The Sixers weren’t players for LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal,

Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer or any other big free agents. But they

hope a healthy and happy Brand and Iguodala, plus the additions of

No. 2 overall draft pick Evan Turner and new coach Doug Collins can

make the Sixers a playoff team again.

Philadelphia did make the playoffs in 2008 and 2009 but hasn’t

had a winning record since the 2004-05 season.

Hey, it can’t be worse than last year’s 27-win disaster under

Eddie Jordan.

”Where my focus is right now, along with Elton and the rest of

the guys, is to get this team where it needs to be and headed in

the right direction,” Iguodala said Monday.

The Sixers open training camp Tuesday at Saint Joseph’s with a

rare burst of optimism for a franchise that has had little reason

to make fans cheer for much of the last decade. The Sixers brought

players up to the media day podium Monday in pairs – veterans Brand

and Iguodala followed by Turner and Jrue Holiday.

Turner, the Associated Press Player of the Year at Ohio State,

turns 22 next month, and Holiday just turned 20. Holiday started

the final 41 games of last year and left a dazzling impression.

Collins said Holiday would be one of the top-five point guards in

the league next season, and Iguodala didn’t hesitate in comparing

him to Gary Payton.

”We’re definitely really excited about growing together and

hopefully bringing some great tradition back and playing some great

basketball this year and the years coming,” Turner said.

The Sixers were all smiles for the cameras on Monday. They wore

Santa Claus hats for future promotional photos and goofed around

with basketballs as they waited to strike a pose.

Brand said he’s tired of seeing the other Philly sports teams

overshadow the Sixers, and he’s ready to make people take notice.

Of course, this is a tough week to grab attention. Donovan McNabb

returns to play the Eagles on Sunday, and the Phillies were on the

brink of clinching a fourth straight NL East title, so the Sixers

may remain an afterthought for a while.

That’s fine for now, especially if they can get the city talking

about them in April and May.

”We definitely want to get back to respectability and have the

city be proud of us,” Brand said.