Not starting? It’s Brand-new to this former Clipper
By Lisa Dillman
Los Angeles Times
December 20, 2009
Reporting from Philadelphia – If you wanted to see what $82 million sitting on the bench looks like, well, it was in full view at Wachovia Center on Saturday night.
Not that many people were on hand to see it, of course, because of the blizzard-marred night here. And staying inside and watching the Weather Channel was a much bigger lure than leaping over snow drifts to get into the arena.
Then again, Philadelphia 76ers fans have seen it before, and they’ll probably see it many more times this season.
This is about power forward and onetime Clipper Elton Brand and his six-year, $82.2-million deal residing on the bench, not starting. There he sat for nearly the first 10 minutes of the first quarter against his former teammates, in what turned into a 112-107 Clippers victory in overtime.
Not quite money for nothing, as the harshest, most discontent 76ers fan would suggest. More like money for something.
Brand, who is in the second year of the contract, is averaging 13.1 points and 9.6 rebounds and has not started since Dec. 11, a stretch of four games. The 76ers are 7-20 and he has started in 18 games, missing three games in November with an injured hamstring.
“Just gotta be professional and do whatever it takes to try to win the ballgame,” he said in an interview with The Times after the game. “We just need to come out to have better starts. I’m sitting. Let’s not be down 12 when I get in.”
But it was more like a can-you-believe-this-stuff laugh than a chuckle.
“That’s the way I look at it. . . . To be down 12, that doesn’t make sense to me,” Brand said.
Brand was the consummate professional with the Clippers, and the same holds true in Philadelphia.
In fact, his first real out-of-character move was when he unexpectedly bolted the Clippers — leaving Coach Mike Dunleavy staring at the final fateful text message — after having helped persuade point guard Baron Davis to opt out the summer before last.
Still, a power forward who has been saddled with injuries has his pride, after all, and earlier this month he made an especially un-Brand-like remark about the hot-button issue of not starting.
“It’s like, no disrespect, but Mikki Moore gets to start, and I don’t?” Brand said to reporters.
That comment and the ones on Saturday would be mild for, say, the likes of teammate Allen Iverson, but they’re borderline inflammatory for someone who chooses his words carefully.
There are only two current Clippers who once shared a court with Brand in Los Angeles: Chris Kaman and Al Thornton. The latter was surprised at the turn of events in Philadelphia.
“Hands down, I thought he would be starting,” Thornton said. “At the end of the day, I think he should be starting. They say it’s better for him to come off the bench. I don’t agree with that at all.”
Brand’s former coach, Dunleavy, was not surprised the issue has gotten a lot of attention in Philadelphia: “Any time you’ve got a player making $80 million, obviously that’s an issue.”
There was the thought that Brand would start against his former team, considering he was coming off his best showing of the season, a 23-point, eight-rebound performance in Friday’s win against the Celtics.
Brand, who is averaging about 30 minutes a game, played 35:30 in the overtime loss to the Clippers, scoring 14 points and grabbing three rebounds.
But 76ers Coach Eddie Jordan has not wavered in his plan for Brand, which, for now, does not including a starting role.
“He’s establishing his niche,” Jordan said. “He would love to start. If he finds a niche, and he can help us win, and he’s big part of it. Then, I think it’s satisfying to him.
“Not acceptable but satisfying.”
Who would have expected Brand to become a niche player?
Jordan has fielded such questions from the media, and apparently from Brand.
“I’ve had a few chats with Elton,” he said. “He’s very professional. He’s very team-oriented. And he’s got a lot of pride.”
Brand, still, was not of a mind to look back at what he left behind with the Clippers. Putting on his heavy snow coat, he said: “No, no. I’m very optimistic. I look forward. When I get the minutes, I produce.”