LIKE VAN HALEN and Sammy Hagar or MLS and David Beckham, the 76ers and Elton Brand were a match made of necessity. Despite winning 22 of its final 34 games last year, Philly was exposed in the first round of the playoffs by the Pistons, who dictated tempo in the six-game series. "Our running game carried us in the regular season," says Sixers general manager Ed Stefanski, "but Detroit beat us up in the half-court. Finding some help in the off-season was our top priority."
Enter Brand, a 6'8", 265-pound power forward who signed a five-year, $82 million contract in July. A deadly low-post threat (he had career averages of 20.3 points and 10.2 rebounds before last season, when he missed all but eight games after rupturing his left Achilles tendon), Brand single-handedly transforms the Sixers into one of the league's most dangerous half-court teams. "He can score in the paint, he can take his man off the dribble, and he is a very underrated passer," says coach Maurice Cheeks. "He can really do it all."
A minor concern is whether Brand will slow a potent running attack, which accounted for 18.2 fast-break points per game last season, third in the league. Brand, 29, says he is about "70 percent comfortable" with the 76ers' system, and though he makes his living on the blocks, he is agile enough to get up and down the court—which means that, while Cheeks has added more low-post sets, the Sixers won't have to abandon their hyperkinetic style. "We're going to try to get out and run every time," says Cheeks. "We're not going to slow down one bit."
A rival scout on the 76ERS: The arrival of Elton Brand turns Andre Iguodala into the No. 2 guy on the team, and rightfully so. Iguodala does a lot of things well—he attacks the basket, scores off the dribble, defends like a monster and gets into passing lanes—but he can't be a top guy because he isn't a great shooter. The fact is, there aren't that many superstars in our league, even though people throw the term around.... The pick-and-roll with Brand and Andre Miller is going to be terrific because Brand can either pop the shot or roll. He's dynamite at using that one escape dribble to get his shot off with his quick release.... Samuel Dalembert should focus on rebounding and blocking shots. Last year he tried to expand his game beyond his means offensively.... Miller seems to have a good relationship with Maurice Cheeks, who has a blueprint but lets Miller adjust on the fly. His lack of shooting range isn't such a problem because they play so fast. They'll score off their junk defenses, trapping the ball to push the tempo.
For the second straight season the Sixers finished last in the NBA in three-pointers made, connecting on just 302 (out of 952 attempts). Team leader Andre Iguodala's total of 101 threes ranked 58th in the league.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2007--08 statistics
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: G Louis Williams, F Reggie Evans, F Donyell Marshall*, G Royal Ivey*, G Willie Green
Record: 40--42 (7th in East)
Points scored: 96.6 (23rd in NBA)
Points allowed: 96.2 (7th)
Coach: Maurice Cheeks (fourth season with 76ers)
DAVID E. KLUTHO
THE WHEEL DEAL Brand has shown no ill effects from the torn left Achilles that forced him to miss most of last season.
DAVID DOW/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
DAVID E. KLUTHO