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Elton Brand - Getting Closer

The Clippers are on a 6 game losing streak - their second longest this season, and this has NOT been a good season.  And there's plenty of bad news beyond that.  

  • Sam Cassell is officially a Celtic as of yesterday - which is good news for Sam, but just another reminder of lost opportunities for the Clippers.  
  • Cat Mobley told Jonathan Abrams on Monday that he hasn't been physically right since November 7 when he strained his adductor muscle.  The sheer 'duh' value of this revelation is astounding.  Cat rushed back onto the court after missing only three games and limped through about a month of action.  If only it had been clear at the time that he should have taken more time to heal.  Oh no, wait, it was clear.  
  • Chris Kaman is currently having his minutes limited because of his tender back.  Back trouble is not something you want to mess with.  But the biggest issue with Kaman is that he has lost the form that made him a serious All Star team candidate in the first three months of the season.  In 19 Clipper games since Jan. 26, he's missed 9 of them, been limited by one factor or another in the other 10, and has not achieved his pre-Jan. 26 scoring average in a single game.  Not once in over 5 weeks.  With only 6 weeks left, we seem to be running out of time to see that Kaman again this season.  I've long maintained that Kaman's emergence is the main factor that makes this strange season a success and not a failure.  But 39 games of All Star play at the beginning of the season, followed by potentially 43 games of injuries and the return of Mr. Flippy, would put us back to square one - wondering which Kaman will show up next November.
  • Tim Thomas is still out with a strained groin muscle.  (Why is it an adductor for Mobley, but a groin for Thomas?  Seems like a double standard.)   Not that he's my favorite Clipper, but he is 6'10", and he can score.  With Brand and Davis out and Kaman's minutes limited, big guys are in short supply.  And scorers were never real abundant.
  • On the court, the team is coming off back to back home losses of 30 and 26 points.  I'm hesitant to say that they've quit on the season - why would they try hard in Denver but not in these last two games when nothing significant had changed in the interim? - but they looked truly awful in both games.  Is it the absence of a positive impact from Kaman?  Is it the psychological effect of losing Cassell?  Whatever the reason, the effort has been poor, and the execution has been far worse.
  • And although Jonathan Abrams would have us believe it is good news that Donald Sterling and Mike Dunleavy Sr. met and spoke yesterday (for reals, this time!), I'm not impressed.  Look, it's not a negative development.  And if it keeps TJ Simers from writing another column then that's certainly a good thing.  But only in Clipper bizzarro-world is it news that the coach and the owner have spoken to each other.  The bar has been set pretty low.  Hell, there is no bar.  When a conversation between two of the most important individuals in an organization valued at $300M qualifies as news, it just serves to illustrate how disturbingly wrong everything is.  
But there is some unmitigated good news today.  Elton Brand played full contact, 5 on 5 basketball yesterday for the first time since rupturing his Achilles tendon over 7 months ago.  By all accounts he looked rusty, but that's completely irrelevant.  As long as the Achilles felt fine, that's all that matters.  The rust will fall away quickly, as long as he is physically healthy.  

The best thing about the Sixers game on Monday was the sideline report by Patrick O'Neal in the second quarter where he relayed a conversation he'd had with Brand:

The guy is working harder than ever to get back to play at the end of this month.  He's lean, he's mean, he's in shape, he's working out, he's jumping.  All Elton wants to do is get out and practice with his team, the problem he said is that there are too many games - he can never get any practice time.  He said he's willing to play with the Developmental League team, the Anaheim Arsenal, the problem is that the team will not let him play for the Arsenal, but all he wants to do is get out and run 5 on 5...

Now, you may recall that Matt from Hardwood Paroxysm had floated this idea of a D-League rehab assignment several weeks ago.  I actually think it's a good idea - if the biggest problem is for EB to get his timing and game legs back, then running 20 minutes a game with the D-Leaguers would seem to be the ideal solution.  I don't see that the risk of injury is any greater in a D League game than in an NBA practice - let's face it, he ruptured his Achilles playing one on one with Kaman in an off-season workout.  You can't choose the time and place of an injury.  There's so little incentive to get him on the court this season that no one is nearly motivated enough to put a rehabbing All Star in a D League uniform.  But for a team in a playoff race?  It makes a lot of sense.  It will happen at some point.

But ignoring the specific suggestion, look at what's happening here.  Brand is so desperate to get back on the court that he's coming up with creative ideas on his own - unprecedented ideas that most stars of his magnitude would find beneath them - in order to expedite the process.  And as for that "lean and mean" thing - have you seen the guy?  He may be the only guy in history who got leaner during his injury.  I almost didn't recognize him on the bench the other day, his face is so much thinner.

After his first full contact practice yesterday, when Art Thompson of the OCR asked him why he would want to hurry back onto the court during this lost season, here's what EB had to say:

First of all, I love to play. It's an honor to play in the NBA, and that's my job. If I'm healthy, I'm going to play.  Secondly, being a part of it with my teammates. We've got to start getting ready for next year. It doesn't look like we're going to make the playoffs this year, so we have to start building. Game situations are the best. But mainly for the fans, we need to put the best product we can out there. If I can bring some energy, if I can bring a high-level of basketball out there, to help win some games, they want to see that.

I ask you, does that sound like someone who is planning to opt out and sign elsewhere?  Obviously these are just words - Elton is very polished and he's very bright - he's almost always going to say the right thing.  But you have to remember that in this case it's being backed up by actions.  He's working harder than ever to return to the court, to play on a last place team, to play with his last place teammates.  Not only would no one blame him if he didn't - reporters are completely baffled as to why he would.  

"We've got to start getting ready for next year."  That's the best news we've gotten in a long time.