Eddie Jordan, in his first season as the coach of the 76ers, views Elton Brand as ''one of 13'' on the roster. Reporters, observers and various scouts view Brand as something much more than that. He was signed two summers ago as the most heralded unrestricted free agtent in the NBA. He is working on a five-year contract worth $79.8 million. And he is struggling mightily. He hasn't played in five of the last six fourth quarters. He sat out the final 16 minutes of Friday night's 112-90 loss to the short-handed (9 men available) Utah Jazz. Who knows how much, or how well, he might play tonight in Chicago, the city in which his pro career began?
We know what we see. He came out aggressively against the Jazz, taking his first touch hard to the glass, only to have it stripped by Carlos Boozer, one of the several former Duke stars Brand sees as he goes around the league. But for all of Brand's aggressiveness, all he got for his night's work was 11 points and 3 rebounds in 24:08. He knows the team needs more, particulary on a night when the opponents, using an all-rookie backcourt of Eric Maynor and Wes Matthews, go up by as many as 26 points. How to do it is another matter.
Is it simply a matter of regaining his legs and rhythm as he comes back from a ruptured achilles tendon and a dislocated shoulder? Or just a matter of learning to play in Jordan'sd supposedly equal opportunity systerm that includes a lot of fast breaking and the use of a pass-and-cut, read-and-react Princeton system? And how much of it is psychological, between the ears?
''I've never been through an achilles injury; I don't want to put it on the injury,'' Boozer said. ''He's the guy I looked up to my whole career; he'll you that. He's helped me a lot in my career. He's got the body of a power forward and the quickness of a 3-man (small) forward) when he was with the (Los Angeles) Clippers. The achilles injury hurt him a little bit, but he's also trying to get used to a new system.
''In my mind, EB's a 20/10 (points and rebounds) I'm used to seeing. He's taught me how to do a couple different things being an undersized power forward. He helped me a lot, especially early in my acreer. I love him to death. He's a hard worker. They (ought to) give him some more minutes, some more touches, in my opinion. Nothing against the coach, though, but Elton, to me, is a great talent. They don't go to him a lot; they go to Thaddeus (Young) and Iggy (Andre Iguodala) a lot, and deservedly so. In my opinion, he's one of the best power forwards in the game. He juswt needs to get a little more opportunity.
''When he was with the (Los Angeles) Clippers, he was their offense, except for the year they went to the playoffs when they also had Sammy (Sam Cassell). For the most part, they went to him 5 out of every 7 possessions. But the system now is a little different. He told me it's hard to get going when everything is perimeter oriented. With the Clippers, it was inside/out; here, it's outside/in; when the perimeter players get going, then it goes inside.
''Don't get me wrong, I mean he has to step up to the plate and do his job, but at the same time they have to use him in a different way. Also, here in Philly, there are some tough critics. He's going to hear it every time, so he's going to try and do more and more. Nothing against what they're doing over there, but if I had Elton on my team as a coach, I'm going to feed him til he tells me he can't take any more. He's a star trying to fit in instead of standing out.''
Jerry Sloan, who was regarded as one of the toughest players of his era and has coached the Jazz the same way since 1988-89, said ''When guys get injured, they lose a little confidence. The organization has to fight to try and get him back; they know what he can do. Thast's what I'd try and do.''
''An injury can make it a job, I don't care who you are,'' Sloan added. ''Some guys handle pain better than others, but it doesn't get any easier. As a coach, all I can do is support (a player coming back from an injury). I can't run for him. I can't fight through for him.''
Lebron James wants to switch from his No. 23 with the Cleveland Cavaliers to No. 6 because he thinks Michael Jordan's number should be retired. Nice sentiment, but faulty.Really, really faulty.
Last time I checked, No. 6 means Bill Russell in Boston and Julius Erving in Philadelphia. They're among the guys who helped create the NBA in which James has become a superstar.