A Surprisingly Unsarcastic Salute: Elton Brand, NBA Model of Consistency

A Surprisingly Unsarcastic Salute: Elton Brand, NBA Model of Consistency

Coming into this NBA season, I think most of us had given up on the $80 million dollar man ever being a productive member of the Philadelphia 76ers. After two erratic, uninspiring, injury-plagued seasons in the city of Brotherly Love, it was easy to view that 80 mil as a sunk cost, spent on a player who was but a shell of the All-Star we thought we had signed. "He's a 13/6 guy, a fourth option," I said to Rev in the pre-season discussion we had about the Liberty Ballers. "And anyone expecting more from Elton Brand in '10-'11 is about to get spiritually posterized."

Well, if EB hasn't made me eat my words just yet, he's at least sliced them up and served them to me on a dinner plate for my eventual consumption. Because through 40 games of the '10-'11 season, Brand very well might be the Sixers' most valuable player.

He's not their best player--that honor still goes to Andre Iguodala, whose refined all-around game could make a contending team very happy at this trade deadline, as long as they don't stare too long and hard at the accompanying bill. And he's not their most important player--that's undoubtedly Jrue Holiday, who despite occasionally putting up frustrating shooting nights like yesterday's 3-14, seems virtually limitless in his skill and potential when he's on his game. But in terms of the guy who's been the team's rock, who's kept them in games night in and night out...I think it's gotta be Brand, doesn't it?

First and perhaps most importantly, out of the 40 games the Sixers have played this season, Elton has been present and accounted for in 39 of them, missing the one game in Toronto just because of a suspension on a foolish flagrant foul in Washington the previous night. Similarly, in only one of those 39 games has he played less than 25 minutes, a blowout loss to the Spurs that was over by the third quarter. Considering how much EB's minutes fluctuated last year under Eddie Jordan, forcing the team to over-extend Marreese Speights in reserve or to go small out of necessity. Merely by staying in games and on the court, Brand is helping the team tremendously, stablizing the power forward position and preventing the Sixers from having to dip too frequently into their already-shallow pool of back-up bigs.

But of course, that wouldn't mean much if Brand wasn't producing in his given minutes. Luckily for us, he's having his best statistical season for the Sixers in just about every meaningful category, averaging nearly 15 points and nine rebounds a game, while shooting at a 52% clip from the field and 78% rate from the line. He's not really scoring more than in the past--his per 36 minute scoring numbers are virtually identical to the past two years--but he's doing it much more efficiently, and consequently, his PER (19.0, a team best) is over three points higher than it was in each of his first two seasons as a Sixer.

The biggest thing for me, though, is just the consistency. His first two years in Philadelphia were frustrating for any number of reasons, but mostly, it was the inconsistency that got under my skin. He'd follow a 23/12 game that made it seem like he was finally finding his groove with a 2-11, seven point effort with more fouls than rebounds that made you wince with every clanged jumper. There's still a little room for variation, but these days with EB you pretty much know what you're getting--14 to 18 points with 8 to 12 rebounds, a steal or two, a block or two, and solid, unremarkable defense. That might not sound like MVP-type numbers, but given the number of erratic young'ns we have on the team this year--Holiday, Turner, Hawes and Meeks, all of whom could be feast or famine on any given night--it's hard to underestimate the benefit of having a guy putting up above-average numbers whose stats you can pencil in before the game just about every night.

Does this begin to justify the $80 million that the Sixers spent on Elton three summers ago, when we thought we were getting a franchise talent that our young, athletic team could congeal around? No, not even close, and to expect Elton to do that with his play at any point is still folly. But as long as we're still stuck with his albatross of a contract for another two-and-a-half seasons, it's good to see him at least producing like a legit NBA veteran starter, proving that all that money wasn't completely wasted. And if the Sixers do end up making the playoffs this year, he's going to be on the shortlist of the biggest reasons why--perhaps even at the very top.

NFL Notes: Dolphins' Dion Jordan reinstated by NFL after sitting out 2015

NFL Notes: Dolphins' Dion Jordan reinstated by NFL after sitting out 2015

DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan has been reinstated by the NFL after sitting out last season for his latest violation of the league's substance abuse policy.

Jordan applied to the league in May for reinstatement, and he was cleared to return Friday as the Dolphins held their first training camp practice.

The overall No. 3 selection in the 2013 draft out of Oregon, Jordan has contributed little so far in his career. He's coming back from his second suspension under the NFL substance abuse policy.

Jordan has played in only 26 games with one start, totaling 46 tackles and three sacks. The Miami group that drafted Jordan is gone, and he returns to a new coaching staff led by head coach Adam Gase.

JAGUARS: Lee sidelined with hamstring injury
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Oft-injured receiver Marqise Lee stayed healthy for one day in training camp.

The Jacksonville Jaguars held Lee out of practice Friday with a left hamstring injury, the latest setback for a third-year pro who can't seem to stay on the field.

Lee has missed significant time with ankle, hamstring and knee injuries. He practiced so little last summer that offensive coordinator Greg Olson said Lee was "like the albino tiger at the zoo. If you get there and you're lucky enough to get him to come out of the cave and see him, it's a good day."

Lee embraced the nickname, but had hoped to make it part of his past and not a pattern. Now, he's back on the sideline.

Running back T.J. Yeldon (right ankle) also was held out.

SAINTS: Nicks joins camp roster
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Former New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks has joined the New Orleans Saints at training camp.

Nicks, who practiced with New Orleans for the first time on Friday, is taking a spot on the 90-man preseason roster that opened up when the Saints placed Vincent Brown on injured reserve.

The 28-year-old Nicks, who posted 1,000-yard seasons in 2010 and 2011, has been far less productive since and likely will need to demonstrate the promise of a significant resurgence to make the regular season roster.

Last season, he played in only six games with the Giants, catching seven passes for 54 yards and no touchdowns.

Now he'll try to carve out a role on a New Orleans receiver corps led by Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman and rookie Michael Thomas.

DOLPHINS: Team confident stadium renovations will be completed on time
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins say their $500 million stadium renovation will be completed as scheduled and in time for the team's final exhibition game Sept. 1.

Work continues 24 hours a day on upgrades that include a canopy. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said Friday the stadium will be ready for the preseason finale against the Tennessee Titans.

The Dolphins say the Miami Hurricanes will open their season at the stadium as scheduled Sept. 3 against Florida A&M.

Ross says the Dolphins' 2015 and 2016 seasons left an eight-month window for the renovation, which normally would have taken about 12 months.

He says there's no backup plan for a Dolphins game site if the stadium isn't ready on time.

Jason Peters: 'So long as I'm healthy, I'm going to be a dominant force'

Jason Peters: 'So long as I'm healthy, I'm going to be a dominant force'

Jason Peters long has been the foundation of the Eagles' offense, so much so its success seems to be tied to his play. At least, it's probably no coincidence the club's last two losing seasons -- 2012 and 2015 -- corresponded with injuries to the left tackle.

To the extent quad and back injuries hurt Peters' performance last year, or how much of his decline can be traced to the fact that he turned 34 in January, nobody can say for sure. Either way, there's plenty of skepticism as to whether he's still reliable, much less if he can return to his All-Pro form.

For what it's worth, Peters doesn't sound like he shares those concerns. He arrived at training camp feeling rejuvenated and believes he has some good years left.

"I feel like I have gas in the tank," said Peters following Thursday's first full-team practice. "Before I got hurt, I wasn't even getting beat. At the same time, we were 1 on 1 on every play. Those guys get paid too, so you're gonna win some, you're gonna lose some."

Peters described himself as being at 75 percent for much of last season, adding that he doesn't need any extra motivation or feel as though he has anything to prove.

"No, I'm in Philly," said Peters. "Y'all get on me every year. I've been here since '09, and I've had a chip on my shoulder ever since I [came into the league] in '04, so I just come to play. The fans deserve championships and division titles, so that's what I'm striving for."

The eight-time Pro Bowler used the Eagles' Week 17 finale against the New York Giants -- a game in which he kept veteran defensive end Robert Ayers (now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) at bay -- as evidence he can still play.

"I show them every year," Peters says of his critics. "I got banged up last year, and then we finished with a win against the Giants. If you put the tape on, Ayers was trying to beat me. He was a free agent and he's a good rusher.

"So as long as I'm healthy, I'm going to be a dominant force."

Strong words, but Peters has reasons to feel confident beyond recovering from injuries.

Last season, he showed up for camp at a reduced weight, a decision offensive linemen often make in an effort to prolong their careers. While it's worked for others, Peters now believes it wasn't the right move for him.

"I tapered down last year and I felt like it took away from some of my game a little bit. This year I put on about 10 to 12 (pounds) and I feel real good. I feel stronger and I'm ready to go," said Peters, adding that he's back back to his preferred playing weight of 345.

But perhaps the aspect Peters is most optimistic for in 2016 is the head coaching change to Doug Pederson and how that equates to a return to a familiar offensive system and approach.

Peters is incredibly versatile and could've played in any scheme, at least he could in his prime. Based on some of the other comments he made however, clearly he did not find Chip Kelly's methods to be ideal (see story). More specifically, he made no secret of his affinity for Pederson's mentor and long-time Eagles head coach Andy Reid.

"Just getting back into this, the ground and pound, the old Andy Reid offense, I'm excited," said Peters.

"I can adjust to any offense, you've seen that," Peters continued. "From (offensive line coaches) Howard Mudd to (Jeff Stoutland) to (Juan Castillo), they all teach different schemes and different techniques, and it really doesn't matter. I'm happy to have the Andy Reid era back, which is Doug, and I'm ready to go."

Pederson also plans to rest Peters during the season in an effort to keep the aging left tackle ready for gameday, which he admits "caught up to" him last season.

Despite his confidence level remaining high, Peters is realistic too and understands he can't play in the NFL forever. While he wouldn't go so far as to put an expiration date on his career, he knows at this point that any season could be his last.

"I'm year to year," Peters admitted. "I don't want to put a number on it. You can watch me out here, watch some of the younger guys, and you can be the judge."

Maybe that's why 2015 under Kelly was an especially tough year.

"It was frustrating," admitted Peters. "An older guy like me, I'm just trying to get that ring, and to keep losing like that, it was hurtful."

Beyond getting healthy, most of all Peters just sounds happy to put the drama of the past year behind him. And despite all of the concerns over what he has left, there's little doubt he still gives the Eagles to win on Sundays when he's in the lineup.

Eagles camp Day 5 observations: Rough day for the quarterbacks

Eagles camp Day 5 observations: Rough day for the quarterbacks

The Eagles were forced to practice inside the bubble for the second straight day, even though the rain subsided shortly after it began.

Still, with how sloppy the quarterbacks were indoors, it’s probably a good thing the team wasn’t outside. It might have been even worse.

This was the first real full-team practice of camp, but tomorrow morning will mark the first day in pads, followed by Sunday’s open practice at the Linc.

Here are some observations from Friday:

• Brandon Brooks (hamstring) and Ryan Mathews (ankle) were still out. In their places, Stefen Wisniewski and Darren Sproles took most of the first-team reps. Head coach Doug Pederson said Brooks and Mathews are day to day and he expects to have them back next week.

• The quarterbacks looked bad in 11-on-11s. All of them. Overthrows, underthrows, balls behind receivers – this morning’s practice really had it all. They all struggled.  

• Sam Bradford overthrew his receivers several times and opened up 11-on-11s with an underthrown ball that was picked off. He also threw the ball behind a few players.  

• Chase Daniel had one bad overthrow to Chris Givens that forced him out of bounds in 11-on-11s just about a minute after Bradford did the same thing to him. After the second one, Givens turned around and was visibly frustrated by the throws.

• Carson Wentz continues to struggle finding timing with some of the third-string receivers. No, many of these guys won’t make the team, but after a week of throwing to these guys, you’d figure they’d be on the same page a little more.

• One impressive play Wentz did make, though, came when he was forced up in the pocket. Clearly the most athletic quarterback on the roster, Wentz moved up and found tight end M.J. McFarland on the run. It was a big play because we know Wentz can take off and run, but here he had the presence of mind to keep his eyes downfield.

• It seemed like Jordan Matthews, Chris Givens and Nelson Agholor were the three receivers who were on the field most with the first team. But Josh Huff and Rueben Randle did get some first-team snaps. Agholor had a pretty good day and made a great diving catch during the individual portion of practice. And Huff got some work in the slot.  

• It wasn’t just the receivers who rotated with the first team on Friday. On defense, while Leodis McKelvin, Ron Brooks and Nolan Carroll got most of the reps with the ones, Eric Rowe and Jalen Mills got a couple too.

• And Rowe made the best of it. His “hiccups” this spring were well documented (see story), but on the first play of 11-on-11s, he made a nice leaping interception on an underthrown ball from Bradford. Earlier this week, he said he thinks he corrected his problems and is looking forward to proving himself when the pads come on.  

• The offense spent some time working on end-arounds. Matthews got one, Huff got another. They also played around with some fake end-arounds. Maybe they’ll never use them in a game, but they exist as a reminder that this playbook is significantly more in-depth than Chip Kelly’s.

• Many fans I’ve heard from just expect Cody Parkey to easily win the kicker job over Caleb Sturgis. Well, that’s not happening so far. I thought, at least in the practices we saw, Sturgis was much better than Parkey this spring. That has now continued into camp. Sturgis was perfect on Friday, while Parkey missed two makeable field goals. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Sturgis beats him out.

• On one play in 11-on-11s, it looked like Nigel Bradham screwed up his assignment, which left Zach Ertz wide open in the middle of the field. Ertz tripped over his feet, but it had the potential to be a touchdown play. Afterward, Malcolm Jenkins went over the play with Bradham on the field. That tells you how smart Jenkins is. Bradham has played in this defense before, but Jenkins is the one there to help him go over the play. Jenkins is a Pro Bowl caliber player, but means more to the team than his individual play.

• The orange linebacker donuts were back today. This time, they were paired with a giant ball. I don’t tire of watching these drills. I can’t think of any relevant reason to do so, but I’d like to see the linebackers dive through the donut one time.