What would a team full of Elton Brands look like?
It’s a silly question, of course, and the answer is it might actually not be too bad. The No. 1 pick in the 1999 draft, the “Old School Chevy” averaged 20.3 points and 10.2 rebounds before signing with the Sixers in 2008.
There seems to be a perception that the team Brand has helped construct since taking over as GM in September of 2018 isn’t very far from a real-life representation of that absurd hypothetical. ESPN’s Pablo Torre, appearing on the Habershow podcast with NBC Sports NBA insider Tom Haberstroh, voiced that view.
“I want the Sixers to live up to the promise of the Process,” he said. “What Elton Brand has been doing, it is John Elway s--- to me. It’s like ‘Hey, I’m going to draft or I’m going to select and sign a bunch of guys who remind me of me. They’re going to be big and they’re going to sort of plod around, and they’re going to be individually quite useful.’ But in terms of the modern sport getting away from the Sixers, yeah, they’re zagging …”
At first glance, Torre’s point is valid. Despite having a 6-foot-10 speed demon in Ben Simmons, the Sixers are 19th in pace. They post up much more than any other NBA team and are third in rebounding percentage. Though they’re 19th in made threes per game, that statistic would be likely be much worse if it wasn’t for Furkan Korkmaz. The shortest player in their Opening Night starting lineup was 6-foot-6 Josh Richardson.
So far, the costly, high-stakes moves Brand has made don’t look very good. Jimmy Butler had the Sixers a few excruciating bounces from the Eastern Conference Finals, but the net result of the original Butler trade is essentially Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round pick for Richardson. That’s not terrible, but it’s not a great return, either. Through the same lens, the initial Tobias Harris trade is now this: Mike Muscala, Wilson Chandler, the Sixers’ first-round pick this year, the Heat’s unprotected first-rounder in 2021, Detroit’s second-round selections in 2021 and 2023 and $189.8 million for Harris and Mike Scott. About 95 percent of that money went to Harris, who the Sixers believe is on an upward trajectory.
The Al Horford signing is where Torre’s stance is most on the nose. Not that Sixers fans need to be reminded, but Brand gave the 33-year-old Horford, a former teammate whose professionalism and work ethic he respected, a four-year contract with $97 million guaranteed. Horford has struggled alongside Joel Embiid and, to put it politely, has not played younger than his age.
Yet Brand has insisted whenever he’s had the opportunity that the Sixers were “built for the playoffs,” which remains to be seen.
A lot of it, I think, is well, we’ve gotta beat the Bucks,” Torre said. “And how do we stop Giannis [Antetokounmpo]? We’ll throw, I don’t know, 28 feet combined of center at him. By the way, maybe that will work when we get the NBA back. Maybe that will be the redemption of Elton Brand in the eyes of all us nerdy Sixers apologists.
“… What I continue to be haunted by as a nerdy sports fan here is, what would [former Sixers GM] Sam [Hinkie] have done? What was the trade he was going to make? Because the way he got that job was ‘Here’s the PowerPoint presentation of how we traded for James Harden when I was assistant GM with the Rockets. We all had all of these assets, there was a superstar who became available suddenly and unexpectedly. We were there better than anyone, and so we got him.’ The Sixers did not do that. They used their assets in different ways.
Though Brand hasn’t measurably improved the Sixers, it’s probably unfair to say he didn’t land a superstar who became available through unforeseen circumstances. Yet Butler, a four-time All-Star when the Sixers acquired him, left after 55 regular-season games and two playoff series. Perhaps Hinkie’s big, superstar trade would also have been for Butler. It’s impossible to know. Regardless, Brand’s pivot to replace JJ Redick and Butler with Richardson and Horford hasn’t worked out at this stage.
Torre, who wrote an extensive feature on Hinkie and the Sixers’ Process in 2015, also shared an interesting anecdote with Haberstroh about his reporting for that piece.
“We had an exhaustive, deep, wildly enlightening conversation in which he opened up,” Torre said. “But it was all off the record. … For better and for worse, that’s him. He wants to protect himself. The only clever move that I had was to ask for one sentence to be on the record. I had to pick the sentence, and the sentence that I picked was him talking about the fact that Robert Caro is his favorite author. It was telling, because Robert Caro was the guy who had written and is continuing to write these exhaustive, decades-long volumes about deep political history — Lyndon Johnson and so forth.
“But as soon as Sam agreed to this one sentence … I haven’t asked him about this, but I have to believe he regrets allowing it. Because as soon as you allow me to quote you, I can then say, ‘We had an interview — here were the circumstances. The rest of it was off the record.’ It got him to be a participant in the story as opposed to being the invisible man who refused to be a part. The door got open and all this light shone through, and it ended up being the most important quote, after Tony Wroten saying, ‘Trust the Process.’ It was the most important quote in the whole piece.”
You can listen to the full podcast below.
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