DALLAS – As if the ignominy of being an amnesty casualty out of Philly wasn’t hurtful enough, Elton Brand‘s new coach in Dallas dealt him the injustice of benching him during crunch time at Charlotte while the five Mavericks on the floor keystone-copped their way out of a certain victory.
Two nights later at home against the injury-depleted Minnesota Timberwolves, Brand played just 17 minutes total and not one measly tick of the fourth quarter of an ugly 90-82 loss, the Mavs’ third in a row. After the game, Brand was visibly miffed by Rick Carlisle‘s rotation choice to stick with Troy Murphy instead, but Brand played it cool.
The next day at the end of practice, Brand was running end-to-end sprints with the low-minute guys, a ritual most vets, saying nothing of one with an All-Star pedigree, would avoid like jock itch.
“It’s been crazy, it’s been different,” Brand said of his first nine games in Dallas. “Like I say, coach is still evaluating. We’re still learning about each other. Coach is still learning about us.”
So it hasn’t been a seamless transition for Brand and the Mavs, who are paying just $2.1 million of his $18 million salary thanks to the CBA-instituted amnesty program.
But, really how could it have been?
Brand came to a team with initially eight new players. Before training camp ended, Delonte West had been suspended twice and waived, Dirk Nowitzki went under the knife, former Clippers teammate Chris Kaman dealt with a back injury and was nursing a calf injury into the regular season, Eddy Curry became the ninth new player before he was cut to make way for a 10th newbie in Murphy, who, for at least those two games, took over Brand’s position in the fourth quarter.
And during it all, Brand’s wife was in the final stages of pregnancy and delivered their second child, a daughter, between a Wednesday game in Dallas that he missed to fly home, and a Friday night game at New York against the Knicks, which he played.
None of the above is an excuse or necessarily even a reason as to why the 33-year-old power forward is struggling to hone his shooting range. Brand’s 36.8 field-goal percentage is well off his 50 percent career average, and although the career 18.2-point-a-game scorer has seen his scoring average dip in each of the last five seasons, he’s averaging a remarkably low 7.0 points.
His mid-range shooting has gone haywire, down to 32 percent, according to NBA.com with his hallmark free-throw line jumper more often spinning out than splashing down. And from inside the lane, it gets worse. Brand is 4-for-14 (29 percent) in the paint.
“I feel good, body feels good, still learning the offense,” said Brand, who quickly learned that Carlisle isn’t afraid to yank anyone not producing. “Like I said, I think I can produce whenever I get the minutes. You get three or four shots in 16 minutes you can’t do much — at all.”
So maybe Wednesday’s breathless victory over Washington, a game Dallas nearly blew a 22-point third-quarter lead, is the start of better things for Brand, who has been a bit breathless himself, granted permission by Carlisle to sneak a quick trip back home on the East Coast to visit wife and baby before the homestand.
Brand responded with his first double-double of the season (11 points, 12 rebounds) in 30 minutes, his high minute mark since the season opener. He was just 4-of-10 from the floor, but grabbed four offensive rebounds in more then eight minutes of crucial fourth-quarter time.
“I’m just glad coach had the confidence to have me out there late in the game,” Brand said. “I didn’t get to play at the end of that Charlotte game and only 17 minutes last game, so I wanted to be out there and help the team win, do whatever I could.”