COACH: Maurice Cheeks | 2007-08: 40-42
Philadelphia 76ers

Stefanski gets his man.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
The Philadelphia 76ers are that team.

Last season, thanks to a commitment to run and trust in their youth, the Sixers came on strong to go 22-12 over the last two-plus months of the season, earning their first trip to the playoffs in three years. Things were already looking up, and thanks to the midseason trade of Kyle Korver, GM Ed Stefanski had plenty of cap space to make more improvements, with the power forward position being the spot that needed the most attention.

And as if someone on the West Coast were granting Stefanski's wish, Elton Brand opted out of the final year of his contract with the Clippers and couldn't come to an agreement to re-sign in L.A. Stefanski was happy to bring him back East.

Now, with Brand on board, and what looks to be a relatively wide open Eastern Conference, the opportunity is there for the Sixers to not only take the next step, but the one after that as well.

It's not like it hasn't happened before.

With the additions of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics improved 42 games in the standings last year and won the NBA title. Because they weren't that bad to begin with, the Sixers won't be making as dramatic an improvement, but they could still be the Celtics of '08-09, and even challenge Boston for the top spot in the East.

Of course, when comparing a team to last season's Celtics, you must look at their defense. Boston was the best defensive team in the league last year. And while Brand is not the defensive presence in the paint that Garnett is, the Sixers were the sixth best defensive team in the NBA last year when it comes points allowed per possession. And Brand's Clippers were top 10 defensively in each of his last two full seasons.

So, expect the Sixers to be among the best defensive teams in the league once again.

Offensively, Philly picked up the pace and showed marked improvement as the season went on last year, flourishing in transition thanks to their speed and their ability to force turnovers. But clearly, they weren't as strong when the game was slowed down.

"There were times that teams took our running game away and we weren't as successful as we would have liked to have been," Maurice Cheeks told the media before training camp opened.

That's where Brand comes in.

Brand's low-post game will give the Sixers a go-to guy in the half-court and make them more efficient when they can't run. Further, he'll improve their defensive rebounding, which should help them get out on the break more often.

Last year, the Sixers were the fifth best rebounding team in the league, but that was mostly because they were the best offensive rebounding team (grabbing 31.8 percent of available offensive boards). They ranked 23rd by securing just 72.0 percent of available defensive boards. Brand, with his 10.2 rebounds per game average, will help in that department. In his last two full seasons with the Clippers, they were one of the six best defensive rebounding teams in the NBA.

So on paper, Brand looks to be exactly what the Sixers needed. It's not just that he was the best free agent available for Stefanski to spend his cap space on. He's also a terrific fit in Philly. In the areas where the Sixers were weak, he is strong.

Of course, basketball isn't played on paper. And Brand is still just a year removed from major surgery.

And of course, without Korver, the Sixers are lacking in the three-point shooting department, which may be a problem when Brand draws double teams. They brought in Kareem Rush and Donyell Marshall as low-budget answers to that problem, but if those two are on the floor, Philly's best players are not.

Still, it's hard to find a player that fits this team better than Brand.

Winning 66 games and a championship, the Celtics set a pretty good example of how to add All-Stars to your team and make a 180 turnaround. The Sixers had already started going in the right direction, and Elton Brand just might be exactly what they needed to go the rest of the way.
-- John Schuhmann

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Iguodala
With the addition of Elton Brand, the Sixers have gone from team of the future to team of the present faster than you can say "Sorry, Baron." And just as fast (well actually, negotiations took a little longer than expected), Andre Iguodala has gone from a lottery pick still on his rookie contract to an $80 million man on a title contender.

Iguodala has always been a strong defender and is as good as it gets in the open floor. And given his youth and his price, you could forgive his inconsistent perimeter shooting or his inability to create his own shot in the half-court.

Thanks in part to the defense of Detroit's Tayshaun Prince, Iguodala had a disappointing postseason, averaging just 13.2 points per game on .333 shooting in six games against the Pistons. But hey, the Sixers weren't supposed to be in the playoffs anyway.

Now, things have changed.

With Brand, the Sixers are no longer a team that will be just happy to be there. And with his new contract, Iguodala can no longer escape scrutiny if he doesn't become a more complete offensive player.

The time is now for both the team and the player to take the next step.
-- John Schuhmann

THE STAT
0 Of the 16 teams that made the playoffs in 2008, the Sixers are the only one that had zero representatives in the 2008 All-Star Game. The Sixers didn't have a single rep in any event during All-Star Weekend.
The Sixers hope to continue on the roll they ended the season and there is no indication that it won’t happen.
They are a smart, well-coached team. They have a balanced offense and a better-than-average defense which should get them back to the playoffs.
Andre Miller is a winner who doesn’t do anything flashy except get his team into a position to win games.
The addition of Elton Brand will give them even greater balance on the offensive end with his great post presence. Watch him to be a 20-10 guy, grabbing four-plus offensive rebounds a game.
Andre Iguodala has turned into one of the steadiest perimeter players in the East who can put up 20-plus points on any given night because of his ability to score off the break, from the perimeter as well as taking the ball inside.
The rest of team is of some concern and how they perform will determine to a great extent how far the Sixers actually go this season.
-- NBA Scout
Elton Brand did very well to play at all last season. He still may have symptoms like pain and stiffness from time to time, but over the long course of the NBA season, few players don't. He could be a force in the Eastern Conference this year.

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NBA.com Fantasy Index

Record: 37-45, 11th in Eastern Conf.
Playoffs: Did not qualify
Scoring Leader: E. Brand, 20.9 PPG
Rebounding Leader: E. Brand, 8.3 RPG
Assist Leader: A. Miller, 8.4 APG

Simulated Season Details
PLAYER/2007-08 STATS PPG RPG APG
PG Andre Miller 17.0 4.0 6.9
SG Andre Iguodala 19.9 5.4 4.8
SF Thaddeus Young 8.2 4.2 0.8
PF Elton Brand 17.6 8.0 2.0
C Samuel Dalembert 10.5 10.4 0.5

F Reggie Evans 5.2 7.5 0.8
G Willie Green 12.4 2.5 2.0
G Royal Ivey 5.6 1.6 2.1
G Kareem Rush 8.3 2.4 1.3
G Louis Williams 11.5 2.1 3.2
F Elton Brand Free agent
G Royal Ivey Free agent
F Donyell Marshall Free agent
C Theo Ratliff Free agent
G Kareem Rush Free agent
F-C Marreese Speights Draft
F Louis Amundson Free agent
C Calvin Booth Trade
F Rodney Carney Trade
F-C Herbert Hill Free agent
G Kevin Ollie Free agent
F Shavlik Randolph Free agent
PPG Andre Iguodala 19.9
RPG Samuel Dalembert 10.4
APG Andre Miller 6.9
SPG Andre Iguodala 2.09
BPG Samuel Dalembert 2.34
Points Scored 96.6 (23rd)
Points Allowed 96.2 (7th)
Field-Goal Percentage .460 (11th)
Opponents' FG% .461 (17th)
Rebounding Diff. +2.69 (6th)
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