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.
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