BRAND vs. SMITH REVISITED

Posted by: Philadunkia
12/22/09 1:41 pm EST

brandinaction09In summer 2008, the Philadelphia 76ers had reached a crossroad.  Still playing in the shadow of Allen Iverson, the franchise’s most beloved former player, the 76ers had just finished a grueling 40-42 season that ended with the Sixers young guns surprisingly taking the number two seeded Detroit Pistons to a Game 6 in their playoff match-up.  The city was craving for a basketball superstar and the team was searching for a go to guy.  Ed Stefanski, then the Sixers newly anointed GM was hoping to make an immediate impact by solving both problems through free agency.  Bringing in one big-name free agent Stefanski determined would give this city the star player it deserved and also add that guy to the roster who could carry the Sixers deep into the NBA playoffs.  Unfortunately for Sixers fans, the organization found none of the above in Summer 2008 and the rest as they say is history.  

josh-smithFlashback to July 2008 and you should recall that before deciding to sign Brand to an $80 million contract, the 76ers brought in Josh Smith for a meet and greet.  At the time Smith was a 23-year old “tweener” by all accounts, with a questionable attitude and a shaky jumper, but unlimited upside.  Smith seemed like a solid fit for the Sixers style of play.  However, the Sixers decided to pass on Smith and ultimately brought Elton Brand, an oft-injured, undersized power forward looking to revive his once All-Star career, to the “City of Brotherly Love”. 

Now, seventeen months after that fateful decision, Brand is playing decently, but laboring through this season after an injury plagued 2008-09 and the Sixers are stumbling aimlessly without any sense of hope.  In the mean time, Smith who was eventually resigned by the Atlanta Hawks, is putting up career best offensive numbers, has become a dominant defensive player and last year helped the Hawks escape the first round of the NBA playoffs for the first time since 1999.  In short, Smith is rising star in the League on a team with a very bright future.  They say hind sight is 20/20, but I would argue that the results of the Brand signing that we are witnessing in 2009-10 were plain to see back in Summer 2008.  Below, are the top 3 reasons why the Sixers made the wrong decision.  

1.  Damaged Goods

Even before Brand ruptured his left Achilles tendon and was limited to only eight games in his final year as a Clipper, EB was known as a 30-year old, physical, low post work horse whose body already had taken a significant beating during his eight plus years in the League.  In a game where a considerable amount of time is spent above the rim, an Achilles blowout was not going to help the already vertically challenged Brand stay competitive.  Of course we all know that after signing the 5 year, $80 million contract with the Sixers, Brand played in only 29 games during 2008-09 thanks to a dislocated right shoulder.

The then 20 year old Smith was coming off a 2007-08 season in which he played and started 81 games for the Hawks.  Leading up to his free agency in the summer of 2008, Smith had never missed significant time because of the nicks and bangs typical of life in the NBA, nor had he ever suffered a truly serious injury.  Admittedly, Smith did miss 13 games in 2008-09 and twelve of those games were due to a sprained ankle.  Still for that to be the longest stretch of games missed by a 5th year NBA player is a testament to Smith’s durability.  Additionally, he has played and started every game so far this season, so 2008-09 was most likely a fluke.  Lastly, because of his athletic, high flying style of play, Smith has not and will not take the nightly beatings that Brand does in the low post.  Thus thanks to the combination of his age and his style of game, it seems safe to say that Smith will most likely play many more years after his 2008 signing, then Brand will.  

2.  Identity Theft 

The acquisition of Brand changed the tempo at which the Sixers play basketball.  Their scrappy, up-tempo playing style that forced the Pistons into a dog fight during the 2009 NBA Playoffs, was changed by adding Brand’s powerful, grind it out post game.  Very generously listed at 6’9, 254 lbs., and playing on bad wheels, Brand is more than occasionally seen lumbering down the court, trailing even the Sixers secondary break.  EB is a stellar rebounder, a beast on the low blocks and although he has a better then decent average of 2 bpg’s in his career, he has never been known to be a great defensive player, so he was not a match at all for the mold in which the Sixers were assembled.

Josh Smith on the other hand would have meshed very well in the Sixers fast break style.  He and another tweener, Thaddeus Young, would have worked perfectly together.  They would effectively be able to work the high low game, with both being able to take their turn on the block.  Smith’s presence would also open up the lane for teammates Louis Williams and Andre Iguodala.  On the defensive side, the addition of Smith would have given Philadelphia two of the young premier defensive players in the league.  Last season, Smith was the Hawks team leader in blocks per game (1.6) and total blocks (111) and became the youngest player in NBA history (23 yrs, 1 day) to reach 800 career blocked shots.  He once had a ridiculous 227 swats for a season.  With Iggy patrolling the perimeter and J-Smooth dominating the paint, inevitably there would have been more fast-break opportunities for the Sixers over the last 1 ¼ seasons.  As a bonus, Smith has the speed and agility to fill the lanes on those fats breaks.

3.  Cap Strapped 

Back in Summer 2008, Atlanta was said to not be interested in paying J Smooth over $11 million a year.  The Hawks organization then were able to hold firm to that line when they matched the Grizzlies five year, $58 million offer sheet ($11.6 million per) for Smith.  The Sixers signed Brand to a $16 million a year deal. Do the math and you’ll realize that it’s not inconceivable that the Sixers could have stolen Smith away from the Hawks by submitting an offer to him that was greater then Hawks’ $11 million per year ceiling, but less then Brand’s eventual annual payout.  That scenario would leave close to $30 million freed up for the next 5 years.  Maybe Andre Miller stays, maybe he doesn’t.  Maybe the 76ers try to join the 2010 free agent frenzy, maybe they wouldn’t.  But the Sixers would have options and in today’s NBA, especially under the current US economic conditions, cap flexibility is priceless. 

Flexible would not be a word used to describe the Sixers current cap situation, and Brand’s contract would be the stiffest (no pun intended) to move.  Aging, fragile, undersized power forwards just don’t go for what they used to.  If the Smith experiment hadn’t worked out, his comparatively modest contract, and extremely high upside would have suitors knocking down Ed Stefanski’s door.  Instead, in addition to the almost immovable contract of Samuel Dalembert, the Sixers are also doomed with the fact that Brand is set to be paid over $18 million when he is 33, leaving the Sixers cash strapped for years to come.  Trade rumors are already circulating in 2009 about Brand, but because he’s 30-years old, is making $15 million this season and has missed 137 of 182 games over the last two seasons, those rumors are not likely to transition into a deal.  So it looks Brand is ours for what will seem like an eternity. 

The choice is clear now, just it was in the summer of ’08, but the Sixers had tunnel vision.  They wanted their big-man, and they got him.  Now we’re stuck with him.


 
 
 

4 Responses to “BRAND vs. SMITH REVISITED”

  1. psv
    22. December 2009 at 16:14

    Josh Smith was never going to come to Philadelphia.

    If you recall, there were only a handful of teams who had either 1. cap space to take on a large contract or 2. wanted to take on a long term contract before the 2010 free agent sweepstakes.

    Smith knew this, and as an RFA with the little leverage he had made sure to get his money’s worth. The Hawks weren’t going to part with him, and there was no way the Sixers would match what the Hawks could offer (the Sixers had less cap space).

    If he was a *UFA*, this article would make sense. But he wasn’t. Secondly, the Sixers brass thought this was a team on the rise looking to fill the PF void that hadn’t been filled since Barkley.

    The reality is that Cheeks didn’t work Brand into the system, so he was canned. DiLeo and Brand showed a glimmer of promise, but he went down with a freak injury. Prior to the Achilles heel, Brand was a workhorse. Since neither injury is related, I’m not going to call him injury prone.

    Eddie Jordan doesn’t like Brand. Eddie Jordan didn’t like Brendan Heywood either. Why? Neither shoot 20 foot jumpers. If you watch, Jordan constantly has his bigs playing away from the basket closer to the 3pt line. That’s just how his ‘princeton offense’ works (or doesn’t, as the case may be). Brand isn’t that kind of player – he clears space, he grabs rebounds, he takes high percentage shots. He’s a reliable go to guy. He was never an athletic forward. When he gets his minutes, he gives you a double double almost religiously.

    Realistically, if you can make sense of Eddie Jordan’s rotations, more power to you. I think this easily the most poorly coached team in the league, and the record is there to prove it. I don’t think Brand can be isolated as a trouble spot – Thaddeus Young disappears after the half, Iguodala seems to rotate from two different spots on the floor with no rhyme or reason, Jrue Holiday has yet to get consistent minutes, Iverson was allowed to start and dictate his minutes after being away from the game for almost six months, Willie Green was a starter(?), and the list goes on.

    To be quite honest with you, if Josh Smith were here with Jordan as the coach, I bet this article would be ‘why the Sixers made a mistake with Josh Smith’.

  2. phillyflu
    22. December 2009 at 23:43

    For all the athletism this team has it goes through long stretches where it cannot hit a jump shot. This is especially obvious in the half court offense. The reason we gave the Pistons and then the Magic fits was because of our defense which Jordan has seemed to completely forget. We didn’t win 2 games against Detroit and Orlando because of great offensive performances.
    Brand is slowly coming back to form with his 18 and 12 tonight. Brand stops droughts for this team in the half court. Sure he isn’t the athletic dunking forward that everyone wants but Smith is a slasher that would make our offense stuggle even more.
    If Jordan stops going with this small lineup against Shaq, etc and starts preaching defense we’d be getting somewhere.

  3. Philadunkia
    23. December 2009 at 15:52

    @ psv

    First, If you remember the Hawks were not offering him anything. They were waiting for him to sign an offer sheet then deciding to match it or not. He signed one with Memphis which was reasonably low and they decideded to match it. A lot of Hawks personel at the time were fed up with Smith’s antics and if the offer was high enough they were willing to let him walk. Also if you remember his teammate Joe Johnson was a RFA when the Hawks signed him, the Suns were going to match the offer, but he told them he’d prefer if they didn’t, which could’ve also been an option for Josh. 2nd you just named 3 coaches who were the problem, so is it the the coaches, notice the plural, or the player, notice the singular. I agree with the Eddie Jordan is the wrong coach for the team, I personally wanted to see him in OKC, but he is not a bigger problem then Elton Brand.

    @ phillyflu

    I agree with the offensive droughts, but as you said their success was built on defense. Elton Brand has never and will never be the defensive player that Smith is, and that defence creates turnovers, which translates to fast break opportunities and easy buckets.

    @ Kenneth

    That would never be the question, because Brand would have been somewhere else hurt. Who’s gonna say that, ” hey we could have really used that guy who played 8 games last season.” Wether you believe Smith was the answer, which I am not saying he was, he was just the better option. That 18 and 12 was nice, but how quickly you forget about the 14 and 3 stinker (in 35 min) he laid the game before.

    In closing I believe Josh Smith would have been the better option. If not only for the defense, but for the energy he brings, the excitement, and the toughness. It’s easy to say that Smith might not have worked but it’s even easier to say Brand HASN’T worked. Thanks for the comments see you guys next article .

    – Will Perez

  4. Bey
    24. December 2009 at 20:44

    Iverson is the best!

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