DALLAS — Throughout his first 13 seasons in the NBA veteran big man Elton Brand thought he had experienced it all.
But the former No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft admits that not even he saw what was in store for his 14th campaign after coming over to the Dallas Mavericks last offseason following his amnesty release from Philadelphia.
Expecting to take most of the backup minutes behind 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki at power forward, Brand would surprisingly see more time than anticipated at center this season while becoming the Mavericks’ lead interior enforcer. Still, while appearing in 72 games and making 18 starts, the 6-foot-9 and 250-pounder would finish averaging career lows in minutes, points and rebounds as he often lined up against larger opposition.
“I was expecting power forward minutes, but the game is changing,” Brand said after averaging 7.2 points and 6.0 rebounds in 21.2 minutes of work this season. “A lot of power forwards are out on the wings and shooting threes and things like that, so I got a lot of center minutes, which I’ve played a lot in my career but not this much. But, you know, I see that I can do it, I enjoyed it and it wasn’t a problem for me playing center.
“Playing like that I could play forever,” he jokingly added after being used sparingly in Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle’s four-headed rotation at center at times this season. “Sitting out practices and stuff, but in my DNA I want to be out there. I want to be out there working with the guys, I want to be out there fighting, but longevity I could play a few more years.”
Like eight other free-agent-to-bes on the Mavs’ roster, Brand will now enter an uncertain offseason as he hits the market. Still, after seeing the Mavericks’ stretch of consecutive playoff appearances come to an end at 12 straight, the veteran says there’s still work to be done in Dallas and he hopes to be a part of it.
Seeing his team fall 10 games below .500 on Jan. 9 after also beginning the year without Nowitzki for the first 27 games, Brand would assist the Mavs’ veteran leaders in staging a late-season rally to get back into the playoff conversation before finishing up by breaking even at 41-41. Now, Brand hopes to continue calling Dallas his home as the Mavericks’ front office tries to build a team capable of competing in the Western Conference.
“You know, free agent-wise, of course I’d like to be back,” Brand said. “Like I said, .500 for this organization, that’s definitely a failure. I don’t want to be a part of that. It left a bad taste, so I definitely want to be here on a winning team and try to rectify what happened this season if possible.
“The injuries and a lot of new faces,” he continued when breaking down what went wrong. “It’s not excuses, it’s just a reality, but that’s the most disappointing. I’ve been in the playoffs myself the last few years and I just know how much fun and excitement it is for the fans and the city, so to break this streak and not be a part of the playoffs, that’s the most disappointing part.”
Still believing the Mavs are just one or two pieces away from getting back into the playoffs, Brand says it became clear to him once Nowitzki returned to form that the team already had plenty of offensive support while finishing eighth in the league in scoring with 101.1 points an outing. Instead, it’s the defense that gives Brand the most concern after ranking 27th while allowing 101.7 points a night at the other end of the floor.
However, with a return to Dallas possibly still in his cards, Brand could be instrumental in improving a defense that clearly lacked an interior presence.
“You know, second half of the season on a 50-win pace, but we still know what challenges we have. We still have to get better. I’m sure we won’t bring the same exact team back, if I’m back at all, so the organization they’re working tirelessly to make sure the team is better,” Brand explained.
He added: “I don’t want to point out position or stuff like that, but you know, we just need to get more defensive-minded and get some tough guys out there just to get some stops. Offensively, you know, we’re fine. You saw what kind of level Dirk can play at. When he’s healthy, he’s still at a high level even at 35 years old. Vince Carter, he’s signed and he played great. And Shawn Marion, the last two weeks averaged almost 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds), so we have enough talent to put the ball in the basket and just have to find a way to get stops.”