Elton Brand still bringing positive vibes


Dec 15

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I’m occasionally asked about a favorite player and it’s not an easy question because there really are mostly good guys in the NBA. But one of the joys of traveling around with the Bulls is the camaraderie around the league, and renewing acquaintances with players around the NBA. And I can see one of my all time favorites in Atlanta, onetime Bulls Rookie of the Year Elton Brand.

“I do think about those days, what could have been,” Brand said with a smile before the Bulls played the Hawks Monday. “We had some talent; if guys like you didn’t say trade me all the time, things like that.”

How could anyone not like him?

Those were the ugly years for the Bulls, the end of the championship dynasty, the massive Jerry Krause rebuilding. It began with Brand as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft. Brand didn’t disappoint, averaging about 20 points and 10 rebounds two consecutive seasons. But they were ugly seasons.

It was 17-65 in Brand’s rookie season; and then they got worse in the ongoing Tim Floyd debacle, 15-67 in 2000-01. I was in full trade mode, though not exactly looking for draft picks. Perhaps Kevin Garnett. Anyway, Krause had the big plan, which wasn’t that off base except for who the players were—Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry—and what they were. Meaning high school grads. We’ve seen enough kids after one year of college not ready for the NBA.

Brand was traded to the Clippers for the rights to Chandler.

Having a seven foot post player and seven foot perimeter player, as Chandler was then advertised, in theory made sense. Perhaps if they were a bit more experienced. In any case, it was a mess, costing Krause his job and leading to the recovery under John Paxson with Scott Skiles and eventually to the current group.

Brand is still around, one of the wily veterans of the NBA. He’s in his 16th season, a reserve with the Hawks who not only is a pro’s pro but one of the best people in the NBA. Brand has time for everyone, will fill any role for the team, and is constantly a source of positive energy and community role model with two small children.

And with an appealing sense of humor.

“We could have drafted Tyson instead of Eddy,” Brand said with a laugh. “Had Jamal Crawford, Sixth Man multiple times, Brad Miller All-Star, Ron Artest Defensive Player of the Year, All-Star. We had some young pieces, but we were so young. As you see, young teams you can’t win a lot of games.”

It was an object lesson for the Bulls and for many teams. Though the draft remains a prime source of rebuilding, the Bulls taught the NBA a lesson: Not that way. Only the 76ers are sort of trying that, though not with the intention of winning yet. The Bulls believed they could. They came to understand there are only so many kids before a house comes apart.

“Takes time,” said Brand. “Either grow or you have to mesh with veteran guys who know how to play. I do definitely look back. Definitely not mad at Krause. He had a big vision and he did draft some good guys.

“I see guys like Paul Pierce moved around a little bit; even Kevin Garnett moved around a little bit,” noted Brand. “It’s special if you can stay in one place for years like Kobe or Tim Duncan or Dirk and just be a part of that town. I wish I could have played better in Chicago; it could have been that town. I see something in that, establishing yourself in a town and in a city and with an organization. That would be a cool thing. I bounced around a little bit, but I still love to play. I’m enjoying it.”

Brand was one of the best Bulls draft picks ever.

He’s in his 16th season and had a great run with the Clippers in the early 2000s, averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds for six years, an overachieving “small” power forward who developed a good jump shot and was one of the smarter, more efficient players. Injuries set him back as he moved through Philadelphia and Dallas before his second year in Atlanta, always respected as one of the class people of the game.

“I was young and cocky,” Brand said of his Bulls start. “I thought, ‘OK, give me the ball; maybe not this year, but next year we’ll be right back in the championship.’ It’s a big difference coming in as a rookie trying to fulfill those kinds of shoes.

“I (did) tear ‘em up the first six or eight games, made them think about the trade,” Brand laughed about those first few years playing the Bulls. “But I always followed and root for them and always want to see them do well.
I’ll be in New York State, where I’m from, and people will say, ‘You’re from Chicago.’ Fans still recognize me from those days.

“It’s been a solid career,” Brand said. “Injuries definitely set me back some. But I always go back to something Ray Allen said when he hit that big shot in the corner (against the Spurs in the 2013 Finals). He said he’s still writing his story. So I’m hoping to get an offensive rebound or charge in a big game in the playoffs and be a part of something still, do something special because I’m still in the game. He said he’s still writing it; it’s not over. As long as I’m here I’m working to do something.”

Maybe Brand will; maybe he won’t. But he’s a champion in the game of life. No one can ever take that away from him.

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