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Sixers Season Preview: Does Elton Brand have a role on the 2016-17 76ers?

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Do the Sixers actually need what Brand brings to the table?

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Elton Brand’s return last January was welcomed by detractors and supporters of the Sixers alike. The reasoning behind his second stint in Philadelphia was made clear in a piece he wrote for The Cauldron, where he expressed a desire to lead the Sixers young talent down the right path:

It’s about repaying what’s owed, about making sure that the young men who follow in my footsteps get what they’re entitled to (and what I haven’t always given them).

...

I do believe my experience and wisdom can benefit [Jahlil Okafor] and my other young teammates. It’s about communicating with them like men, starting to grow together, and — hopefully, eventually — winning some ballgames. That’s what Sam Hinkie and I talked about when he approached me about joining the team, and what has me so excited about this opportunity.

At the time, the team was in desperate need of good PR and as many stabilizing forces in the locker room as they could find. Brand’s arrival, in addition to the return of diminutive guard Ish Smith, was a seen as a way to get more adults in the room to help the young kids in their developmental journey.

Nine months later, Brand’s presence appears superfluous.

Old School Chevy is certainly at the end of his rope as a player, a fact amplified by the Sixers roster situation. They have an abundance of players who need minutes in the front-court; the three centers, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric alone would be a logjam, and it only gets worse when Richaun Holmes and tweener forwards like Jerami Grant and Robert Covington are added to the mix.

There simply aren’t minutes available to Brand, so his role (barring an injury crisis) would be to serve as a sort of player-coach and mentor. In theory there’s plenty of merit to the idea, as Brand is well-regarded as a teammate and human being.

The curious thing is the Sixers already have players capable of providing “veteran presence” and leadership who will also play meaningful minutes for the team.

Sergio Rodriguez is a 30-year-old veteran who has played in the NBA, Europe and as part of Spain’s national team. Jerryd Bayless is an eight-year-pro who is living proof you can drastically improve your shooting ability over time and survive in the league as an undersized combo guard. Gerald Henderson is a pro’s pro, and former teammates have constantly talked up his ability to lead:

He's done a good job of giving advice when he sees certain things, when advice is needed, [Allen] Crabbe said. He's one of the older guys on the team, so when he sees something, he steps up and talks about it.

...

You remember earlier in the year, when he wasn't really in the rotation and was barely playing? [Ed] Davis said. He was still coming in every day working hard, being positive. That stuff, it rubs off. Other guys, they see it and they notice it and they pick up those good habits. I have nothing but respect for G from that end.

Between that trio, there’s nearly two decades of NBA experience and wisdom to share (without counting Rodriguez’s overseas & international reps). The added benefit here is they can show and prove; it’s a lot easier to get people to listen when you’re still capable of helping win games in the short-term.

Knowing what we do about these three, it’s hard to figure what Brand will be expected to provide that isn’t being offered elsewhere. If you have players that offer some semblance of your mentorship who also provide value on-court, it becomes harder to justify your spot on the roster.

Spots are at a premium on this year’s team. Assuming no trades — and that’s a big assumption — there are at least 11 stone-cold locks to make the roster:

  • Joel Embiid
  • Ben Simmons
  • Jahlil Okafor
  • Nerlens Noel
  • Dario Saric
  • Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
  • Sergio Rodriguez
  • Jerryd Bayless
  • Gerald Henderson
  • Robert Covington
  • Hollis Thompson

That leaves four spots for a group that includes Grant, Holmes, Nik Stauskas, T.J. McConnell, Brand and the team’s Summer League invites (Shawn Long, James Webb and Brandon Paul). Even removing the latter group, you’re pitting Brand against two young athletes with room to grow, one of Brett Brown’s favorite players and a guy just two years removed from being a lottery pick.

Can we determine the relative value of Brand’s mentorship versus the chance Stauskas has to regain his shooting touch? Probably not. Because Brand’s role would almost exclusively exist in unknowable terms, it’s impossible to quantify how much of a difference it would make to keep him over another player.

Brett Brown’s voice likely looms large here. Brand won’t be on the roster if Brown thinks the team has enough “adults in the room”, because he needs guys who can help him start to turn this thing around. As much as Brown continues to frame things with a view on the long-term, he knows a new regime focused on more immediate results will discard him if the arrow doesn’t point up.

The possibility exists, however faint, that the 76ers are training Brand for a future coaching role. In this lens, bringing him back makes a lot of sense. Some of the more well-respected assistants in the league are always recently retired players, and if Brand gets some preseason reps in with the team before eventually trading his shorts for a suit, he’ll no doubt command attention.

While watching the team play in the preseason, keep an eye on the impact made by players on the fringes of the 15-man roster. If they can prove they deserve to stick around, Old School Chevy won’t have a place to park.