Brand, Iguodala put stamp on gritty season

Brand, Iguodala put stamp on gritty season

Thursday, April 28, 2011
Posted: 1:45 a.m.

By John R. Finger

MIAMI As he drew his sixth foul of the game and walked to the bench for the final time of the season, Elton Brand was put into an extra long hug from his coach Doug Collins. If anyone deserved it for the way he played over the final months of the season, it was Brand.

I was so proud of him, Collins said. What a great year it was for him with two tough years in Philadelphia. He has the heart of a lion and just competes every single moment. I am glad he is on my team. I thank him for all he has done this season. He is one of the ultimate professionals I have ever been around.

Thats high praise coming from a longtime coach and player like Collins, but there was more to it than just the points and rebounds Brand put up every night. After those two tough seasons Collins talked about, Brand led the team with 15 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. But more than that, Brand was the spiritual leader of the Sixers and along with Andre Iguodala, one of the mentors to a roster filled with young ballplayers.

So when Brand plays the final two months of the season with a broken right hand and a dislocated finger on his left hand, it resonates. It might even mean more to the team than the 22 points and eight rebounds Brand posted in the Game 5 defeat against the Heat on Wednesday night at American Airlines Arena.

Though far from his best season statistically speaking, the 2010-11 campaign just might have been Brands most meaningful.

I was proud to have these guys under my tutelage, Brand said after the 97-91 loss to the Heat on Wednesday. They listen, work hard and will get better. Its kind of tough playing with young guys, but not these young guys. The guys just did a great job this season.

It takes a special kind of person to sacrifice himself for the good of the team. Thats especially the case for a player who has been in the league for 12 seasons, and takes a mentorship role on a young team. However, the young guys helped Brand get to the postseason for just the second time in his long career.

We had a great season. We played together, Brand said. There are definitely going to be different phases, it happens to every team, so we needed to enjoy the run we have. We worked hard this year.

Brand likens it to laying a base. It may have looked like a five-game exit in the playoffs to a superior team in black and white, but it was bigger than that.

We were in every single game, down to the wire. We are proud of ourselves, Brand said. We are definitely going to work harder. We know what we have to do to get better. Its obvious were not far away.

Headed into next season, Brand, 32, has two years worth more than 35 million on his deal and will be difficult to trade. However, one player who may be difficult to trade because of both his contract and his ability will undoubtedly be part of the offseason intrigue.

Typically when a season ends short of a championship, the speculation over which players will remain for the next year and which ones will depart. Needless to say, its the potential departures that garner the most speculation and media intrigue.

Certainly when it comes to staying or going, Iguodala is the first name mentioned.

Asked point blank if he wants to return to the Sixers in 2011-12, Iguodala said he wants to play for one team for his entire career.

Its always been a dream of mine to play ball for one team, Iguodala said. This has been a great ride so far. Im really looking forward to the summer, letting my body recuperate. I want to get back to 100 percent. Im looking forward to next year being my best year in the league.

Like Brand, Iguodala battled an injury that would have sidelined a lesser man. With tendonitis in his knee, Iguodala appeared in 67 regular season games. Thats significant because in his first six seasons with the team, Iguodala missed just six games and played in every game during the past three seasons.

But going forward, Iguodala would like to put his stamp on the game as a 76er.

I always wanted to be in one place, be comfortable in one spot. I still feel the same way, being able to put a stamp on not only my career, but the Philadelphia 76ers record book, Iguodala said. I want to keep climbing the charts with some of the greatest basketball players ever. Just for my name to be brought up as having some of the most steals in team history is something I always thought about. I want to continue to climb the charts and take this team to the next level.

The season was something of a breakthrough year for Iguodala. Though he often took some ill-advised shots, Iguodala bought into Collins philosophy and thrived. Like Brand, his numbers were off from his best years, but Iguodala finished eighth in the defensive player of the year balloting and was the go-to guy for the Sixers not because of his shooting, but because he could find an open teammate.

Still, in Game 5 it was Iguodalas tough jump shooting that spurred the Sixers late charge and brought them to within a point with 36 seconds to go. He scored 18 of his 22 points during the second half.

He is a very good player, Heat coach Erik Spolestra said of Iguodala. He is so unique in terms of how many things he does to impact the game. He is such a good defender, hes long and he moves his feet. Also, he is a very good rebounder and an intelligent defender. Offensively, I think he gets judged on how many points he scores. He does so many other things.

Undoubtedly, Brand and Iguodala will return next season, though its clear the teams future lies in its youngsters. For now, the vets are passing along the knowledge until its time to pass the baton.
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Jahlil Okafor eager for more minutes as knee heals

Jahlil Okafor eager for more minutes as knee heals

CAMDEN, N.J. — Jahlil Okafor has been patient with his right knee. He was disciplined with restrictions and recovery during the preseason, recognizing the goal of being ready for opening night. 

At the same time, once he got back on the court he wanted more. Okafor played eight minutes Friday against the Heat, his first game since Feb. 28 before undergoing surgery to repair a right meniscus tear. 

“I don’t think I’m going to do eight again,” Okafor said Sunday. “They kind of heard me complain about that a lot. I think it’ll definitely be more than eight, but it won’t be much more.” 

Okafor has been limited since reaggravating his knee during the final day of training camp. He practiced “to tolerance” on Sunday, according to the Sixers. Okafor did not participate in the team scrimmage and worked out individually with assistant coach/head of strength and conditioning Todd Wright. 

The second-year big man did not feel soreness on Saturday following the game. On Sunday, he felt “kind of stiff” during practice. Brett Brown has been watching Okafor’s movement closely. While Okafor considered it to be “good,” Brown was a tougher critic. 

“I think he looked OK,” Brown said. “He didn’t look great to me today. I’ll give him a B-minus … It’s always how do you move? East, west, north, south, how do you move?” 

Okafor scored four points, one rebound, one assist, one block and one turnover in Miami. He focused on his defense during the game. When he subbed out, he checked in with Elton Brand on the bench to receive feedback from the now-retired veteran. Okafor plans to continue to tap into him for advice throughout the season. 

With opening night three days away, Okafor still plans to be on the floor for it.

“I am optimistic about it,” he said. “I should be ready to go.” 

Robert Covington sprained his right ankle in Friday’s game and did not practice Sunday. Brown anticipates Covington, who has been starting at small forward, also will be ready to go Wednesday. 

“I do (expect him to play),” Brown said. “But we won’t know that for sure yet.” 

Sixers waive retired Elton Brand
The Sixers waived Brand on Sunday, making his retirement official. Brand announced his intentions to walk away from the game Thursday. The Sixers' request of waivers was a procedural step. The roster currently stands at 19. 

“It’s been an honor, it’s been a privilege to play this game, the game that I love, and I’m certainly going to miss it,” Brand said last week (see story). “But it’s definitely time now.” 

Brand celebrated his career with his teammates at Komodo in Miami on Thursday night ahead of their preseason finale against the Heat. 

Report: Nerlens Noel expected out 3-5 weeks after left knee surgery

Report: Nerlens Noel expected out 3-5 weeks after left knee surgery

It appears the Sixers' frontcourt logjam may not be an issue early on.

Nerlens Noel, who is having surgery Monday for an inflamed plica in his left knee, will miss the first three to five weeks of the season, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Noel suffered a left groin injury in the first preseason game against the Celtics and missed the rest of the preseason. While undergoing treatment, Noel reported left knee soreness, which led to the discovery of the inflamed plica.

It's been an odd start to the season for Noel. The big man was outspoken about his displeasure with the Sixers' frontcourt situation early in camp. With the deadline for Noel's rookie contract extension approaching on Oct. 31, the team has not had conversations about it, according to a report.

The Sixers are already without No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons as he recovers from surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his right foot. The team will also be without their starting point guard Jerryd Bayless who is dealing with a ligament issue in his left wrist. Bayless won't require surgery and will be reevaluated in two weeks.