On the darkest days of the NBA lockout, Elton Brand believed the season would be totally wiped out.
”So, I got a burger, had some wine and went to sleep,” Brand said, laughing.
He no longer needs his late-night splurge to cope with life without basketball.
Brand has the game back, and all his Philadelphia 76ers teammates and coaches along with him.
The Sixers opened training camp Friday night with a flurry of moves, including one big splash that brought their first practice to a halt. Coach Doug Collins took a brief break from the three-hour session to announce top reserve Thaddeus Young, a restricted free agent, had been signed to a five-year contract. One more key piece from a team that high-jumped from the draft lottery to the playoffs in Collins’ first season was back.
”We had to have him,” Collins said. ”I was so scared that someone was going to throw some ridiculous crazy money out there at him.”
The Sixers threw more than $40 million at Young, who finished third in voting for the league’s sixth-man award last season. The Sixers also signed first-round draft pick Nikola Vucevic, 7-foot, 260-pound center out of USC, and second-round pick and former Temple star Lavoy Allen.
Veteran forward Tony Battie should rejoin the team by the end of the weekend and the Sixers are waiting to hear if restricted free-agent center Spencer Hawes will accept the team’s qualifying offer.
Oh yeah, a new mascot also in on the way.
Voters had to decide among ”Big Ben” Franklin; the All-American pet, B. Franklin Dogg; or Phil E. Moose.
The 76ers also have new owners. CEO Adam Aron watched practice with reporters at the team’s practice facility, and they’ve cut ticket prices and offered a wide variety of fan-friendly upgrades in an attempt to win back a mostly apathetic fan base.
”We’re getting a new mascot, we’re slashing ticket prices,” Brand said. ”I like the Dogg. I’m not sure. The moose? I have a lot of deer in my backyard.”
The extended offseason wasn’t a total loss for the Sixers. Brand spent an entire Thanksgiving with his family and was in the crowd at Madison Square Garden to watch his former Duke coach, Mike Krzyzewski, win his 903rd game.
The entire roster is about back, meaning it should be easier to ease right into Collins’ familiar playbook.
”Last year, we were coming from the Princeton offense, which no one knew,” said Brand, referencing former coach Eddie Jordan’s confusing system.
Brand’s not the only Sixer who benefited from a relaxed summer.
Andre Iguodala, their best all-around player, was affected last year by various knee, ankle and wrist injuries that could never heal because of the daily grind of the NBA season. He was also bothered by daily trade rumors that he would be dealt in the offseason. The lockout wiped out that possibility – for now.
”The time off was incredible for me,” he said. ”I didn’t have to rush back. I was in good shape last summer but I was tired. Today felt really good.”
Iguodala lost 10 pounds to relieve some of the stress of his knees – needing all the help he can get in a condensed season that has stretches of games on three straight days. Iguodala was still the go-to shooter in closing time, but otherwise tried to fit in with a more team-oriented style that he learned playing for Team USA at the 2010 world championships. He has just never turned into the franchise player that was expected of him once Philly traded Allen Iverson. He has three years left on an $80-million, six-year contract – and maybe this could be the year he becomes an All-Star.
”I just sense in him a whole different guy,” Collins said. ”He’s all in.”
The time at home for Thanksgiving is a tradeoff for boarding a plane Christmas afternoon to Portland for the season opener against the Trail Blazers on Dec. 26. The Sixers play their first five games on the road before returning for the home opener Jan. 6 vs. Detroit.