Not even two years ago, the Sixers appeared to be three minutes from escaping the Boston Garden with a victory over the Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and moving on to face the Miami Heat for a chance to go to the NBA Finals.
Instead, Rajon Rondo took over the last few minutes after Paul Pierce had fouled out and the Sixers were sent packing.
Make that literally and figuratively.
A couple of months after that loss in Boston, the Sixers reconfigured the roster. Andre Iguodala, Nik Vucevic and Mo Harkless were traded. Lou Williams was allowed to move on via free agency and Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson were acquired for a run at the Heat.
The move that enabled much of those transactions to occur came in July of that year when the Sixers exercised the amnesty clause on the veteran and team’s heart and soul, Elton Brand.
Like Bynum, Brand was acquired with the hope of returning the Sixers to their former glory. Unlike Bynum, Brand left it all out on the floor for the Sixers, playing with broken hands, pulled muscles and separated shoulders.
“I understood why they broke that team up. I get it,” Brand said from the Atlanta Hawks’ locker room prior to Friday night’s game against the Sixers. “At the same time, we had a great run and we had some talent.”
Still, Brand admits to being a bit surprised at how quickly the Sixers fell into a complete overhaul. The Sixers haven’t been back to the playoffs since that game in Boston and it doesn’t appear as if a second-half run to sneak in this year is going to occur.
The Sixers were so close, but now so far away.
“It’s kind of surprising. I root for the guys and I still have friends on this team. It’s surprising that it got so bad so fast,” Brand said. “On another note, they swung for the fences. Sometimes when you swing for the fences you whiff.”
The Sixers whiffed with Bynum. But rather than take another swing for the fences, the Sixers are rebuilding from scratch.
Some call it tanking, but Brand -- like the Sixers’ players -- doesn't look at it that way.
“I say to those guys, ‘I know you’re not trying to tank,’” Brand said. “Because they aren’t tank kind of guys and this isn’t a tank kind of city. They’re just losing tough, close games. I played with those guys and I know them. As players you try to win every single game.”
With the Hawks, his second team since leaving the Sixers two seasons ago, Brand is settling into a new role. He’s still the veteran leader on the team, only these days his leadership comes with a lot less playing time.
“It’s an adjustment, but you still have to be prepared,” Brand said. “I was thinking a couple of months ago about what a great luxury we had. We have Paul Millsap, who is an All-Star and Al Horford and he’s an All-Star and then Al Horford goes down. So I’m thinking I can be a veteran leader and play where I need to, and then Al goes down and I have to change my outlook.”
Brand says he’s ready for anything asked of him from Hawks rookie coach, Mike Budenholzer.
“My best ability right now is availability,” Brand said.