Does Elton Brand check all the boxes?
It is not a criticism of Brand to say this is not who most people expected would replace Bryan Colangelo as General Manager of one of the most intriguing franchises in the league.
After Colangelo’s ouster in June, the 76ers continued to talk big, both about the free agents they were going after and the people they expected to hire to lead their front office. There were conveniently leaked stories expressing the team’s interest in R.C. Buford, and Daryl Morey, and many of the other big-time execs in the game.
But after not getting any of them to commit, and interviewing several highly regarded external candidates during the summer on a “pretty selective list,” as owner Josh Harris told ESPN over the summer, the Sixers pivoted back toward their internal candidates.
The curious news was while they had several good ones from which to choose, they chose the one with the least experience, both in Philly and as an executive. Brand was only named GM of the Sixers’ G-League affiliate in Delaware in August 2017. Brand will report directly to Harris, as will coach Brett Brown, with Brand in charge of personnel and Brown, who’d been the interim GM immediately after Colangelo’s resignation, in charge of everything on the floor.
In picking Brand, the Sixers passed over two very good, more experienced internal candidates in Ned Cohen and Marc Eversley — both of whom received promotions along with Brand. But Brand’s the guy with all the juice now.
Cohen spent a dozen years working for the league before coming to Philadelphia in 2016 as vice president of basketball operations and chief of staff. He quickly made a name for himself in Philly as one of the sharpest executives around. He was promoted along with Brand to a new title, assistant general manager, where he will oversee the team’s roster and cap management.
Eversley was hired by Colangelo from Washington in 2016, overseeing player personnel, and using his network of contacts as a former Nike executive to make Philly as attractive a destination for potential free agents as possible. If former player agents can be given GM authority, why on earth couldn’t Eversley, who’s well-regarded around the league?
The Sixers came to believe that Brand has leadership skill and potential that their other executives didn’t have, or didn’t have enough of at a time when Philly is poised to again become a power in the east. They think Brand will be able to provide hands-on teaching and motivating some of their young players. They think he’ll be able to collaborate with and occasionally push back on Brown and the coaching staff.
And they think Brand’s status as a former player will help them both with their team and with potential free agents.
It’s a formula that’s worked in the league in recent years. But it’s nonetheless a gamble.
In Detroit, Joe Dumars was named President of Basketball Operations in 2000 by the Pistons’ late former owner, Bill Davidson, just a year after his retirement as a player. Dumars quickly put together the core group — Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace — that won the 2004 NBA championship and made six straight Eastern Conference finals. In addition, Dumars was also able to corral top coaching talent, bringing in Rick Carlisle, Larry Brown and Flip Saunders in succession.
Dumars saw something in Billups that few others did when he got him from Minnesota — a true lead guard. He believed Ben Wallace could anchor a championship defense and made the move in 2004 to bring Rasheed Wallace in as the final piece.
Similarly, Danny Ainge hadn’t run a team when Boston hired him from Turner Sports, where he was a colleague, in 2003 to be executive director of basketball operations. Ainge had coached in Phoenix for two-plus seasons, but had never run a team. He, too, constructed a championship team where a rebuilding one once stood, getting Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to pair alongside Paul Pierce in 2007, then rebuilding Boston back up to its current status by trading Pierce and Garnett to Brooklyn and watching the Lottery picks roll in. Ainge topped all that by taking a chance that Brad Stevens could make the transition from Butler to TD Garden. He was, on all of it, ahead of the curve and correct.
But: Dumars and Ainge, while not doing total rebuilds, did not inherit teams with the potential of this Sixers squad.
Philly may well be proven correct by elevating Brand. He may be the voice that can reach and hold Joel Embiid’s attention, Colangelo clearly having ceded that authority with his superstar with the whole burner accounts insanity and everything contained therein. Brand could certainly have sway and influence as a just-finished player in the locker room with the likes of Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz.
Brand is smart and was certainly part of numerous great teams as a player, from his AAU days with Metta World Peace and Lamar Odom, to the 1999 Duke team that made the NCAA national championship team, along with Shane Battier, Corey Maggette and Trajon Langdon, to the Clippers teams with Sam Cassell that broke through and made the playoffs for the first time in two decades.
But Brand will have to be one of the team’s biggest voices when it comes to free agency, and he will have to do better than the franchise did this summer, when it didn’t get any of the big names it had said, rather vociferously, it was planning to bag. No LeBron; no Kawhi; no PG13. Brown led the pursuit as interim GM, but everyone involved said that titles didn’t really matter; it was the idea of playing alongside Embiid and Simmons that would carry the day.
The day went uncarried.
The 76ers will again be a player next summer, having brought in vets (Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala) entering the last year of their respective contracts, with J.J. Redick and Jerryd Bayless also up after this coming year. Embiid’s max deal is the only significant one on the books next summer. Fultz looks like he’s rehabbed his jumper. Cohen and Eversley and Brown will certainly know exactly who they want to pursue in 2019.
For his sudden ascension to pass muster in the Illadelph, Elton Brand will have to be The Closer.