Brand brings much-needed toughness to Mavs

Elton Brand started in Dirk Nowitzki’s place as the Mavericks wrapped up their European Vacation earlier this week. While the power forward switch had to do with Dirk’s swollen knee, it meant some extra work for Brand with the first unit.

That’s where Brand feels the most comfortable, though he knows that won’t be his role in Dallas. He’s a backup now, at least for this season, behind Nowitzki and center Chris Kaman.

“I’m going in there playing just to prove that, hey, I deserve minutes, whenever those minutes come,” Brand said. “I think I’ll enjoy especially playing with Dirk, whenever I get that chance, because most of my career I’ve had the best big defender defending me.”

Brand has been a focal point of the offense in Chicago and with the Los Angeles Clippers. He’s carried the load down low, averaging at least 20 points per game in six different seasons and double-digit rebounds five times.

That’s not his job anymore. He’s ready to be a tough guy. Something the Mavericks haven’t had much of in the past outside of Tyson Chandler.

“I’m definitely going to have to anchor the defense, bring toughness,” Brand said. “I’m not proud of it, but I think I led the league in flagrant fouls last year. You have to bring that. In order to win, you have to do those kinds of things. Protect that paint.”

Brand actually led the league in flagrants in 2010-11, but his point is made. He does join the Mavs with some familiarity having spent five years with Kaman in L.A.

“When Brand and Kaman are out there together, they’re in lock-step with what they’re doing,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “When one guy zigs, the other knows to zag. They know how to play together and that’s going to be something that helps us.”

There’s obviously uncertainly and pressure playing in Dallas. One-year deals abound and nothing is promised for those on the roster not named Dirk.

But that’s also an opportunity. Brand isn’t above auditioning for a job, considering where the Mavericks will sit next summer.

“I don’t think there are too many teams that have more cap space than right here,” Brand said.

Brand arrived in Dallas under less than ideal circumstances. He wasn’t a marquee free-agent signing or part of a blockbuster trade. He was dumped by Philadelphia or, in politically-correct NBA speak, amnestied. The Mavericks landed Brand with a winning bid of $2.1 million.

That’s for a guy who’s been made north of $10 million annually for the last nine years.

Brand wasn’t surprised by the Sixers divorce. General manager Rod Thorn was open about how the franchise felt about Brand. They liked him; he just wasn’t worth the money. More importantly, Philly won one playoff series in Brand’s four-year stay.

“I’m a realist. We didn’t get it done,” he said. “Second round [in 2012 and ] we get to the Eastern Conference finals, we win Game 7, maybe it would have been different.

“The part that was tough was waiting to see who claims you off waivers. You don’t know. So any team under the cap … Charlotte, Sacramento. There were a lot of teams that could have claimed me. That was the toughest part — where are you going to go? When it was Dallas that was great.”

Brand wouldn’t have been an option had the Mavericks bagged a pair of big fish this summer. Losing out on Deron Williams and, at least for now, Dwight Howard changed the plan of attack for Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson and Co.

Cuban has since said – several times – that the Mavericks are better off financially and talent-wise without D-Will. Howard also doesn’t appear a realistic option now that he’s sporting Lakers’ purple and gold.

Brand isn’t trying to live up to who could have been in Big D. And like Cuban, he’s high on these Mavs.

“We as a team, with the pieces we’ve put together, I feel we could match or get close to matching what they would have brought,” Brand said of Deron and Dwight. “But individually, I’m not Dwight Howard anymore.”

Lucky for Brand, he’s not expected to be.