By J.C. MOORE
The 2008-2009 Philadelphia 76ers have a new look. It’s a look that head coach Maurice Cheeks has wanted since becoming coach in 2005, and one that Eastern Conference opponents will fear. It’s a look that Philly fans can be proud of. It’s a look of a champion, and the best way to find that look is to stare in the eyes of the Sixers’ recent offseason acquisition.
Sixers fans everywhere were given hope when Elton Brand, former Los Angeles Clipper and 2-time all star, was signed to a 5 year, 80 million dollar contract in early July. Philadelphia’s general manager Ed Stefanski described a low post scoring power forward as the primary need of his squad. As a career 20 points per game scorer, Brand provides that need.
“We talk about we need a power forward, we need a guy with his back to the basket who can catch the ball,” Stefanski said in Elton Brand’s July 10th press conference. “We need an impact player who can step out and make a shot. Elton is that player.”
Brand described the need to be close to home (he’s a New York native) as a primary reason for packing his bags for Philadelphia. The other reason? The potential he sees in this rising young 76ers squad.
“They were one of the best teams during the second half of the season last year,” Brand said at his introductory press conference. “I see myself fitting in. They made the playoffs without my assistance so I’m looking for bigger and better things.”
The Sixers have several young, talented pieces to fit around the burly power forward. Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams, both of whom were signed to long-term contracts this summer, are ready to contribute in bigger roles this season. Samuel Dalembert, Andre Miller, and rookie surprise Thaddeus Young are all back to accompany Brand along with new additions Theo Ratliff, Marreese Speights, and Kareem Rush.
Questions Philadelphia fans have about Brand circle around his recent health problems. Brand missed all but the last 8 games of the season because of a torn Achilles tendon. It’s an injury he now insists is in the past.
“I’m definitely 100 percent,” he assured the doubters. “The Achilles is totally repaired. It’s strong. The athleticism is there. The explosiveness is there and I’m prepared to do some big things this year.”
Elton Brand seems to have the weight of the city resting squarely on his shoulders (and that healing Achilles). Playing in a city such as Philadelphia can have its dividends. Hustle, work hard, and win? He’ll be the toast of the town. But if you slack off, get hurt, or lose? Be prepared.
“I’m deeply excited,” Brand expressed. “I won’t let anybody down.”
In a city that hasn’t had an NBA championship in 25 years, that’s good to hear. Sixers fans are itching to get back to the glory days. Could this finally be the year the curse is broken? Don’t let us down, Elton. Don’t let us down.