"LET'S TURN this around."
Those were the optimistic, albeit unrealistic, words of Elton Brand as he entered the locker room Monday after talking about returning to the 76ers organization. Those words were what fans wanted to hear when he signed that huge $80 million, five-year deal in the summer of 2008. Now, they are just a comment to draw a laugh.
The Sixers brought back the 36-year-old, 17-year veteran forward Monday, not for his diminished on-the-court skills but to be a leader in a locker room where many were too young to see Brand play his two seasons at Duke.
In another move, the team waived forward Christian Wood.
"I was offered assistant GM, TV gigs, but I turned everything down," said Brand, who has a home in Gladwyne. "As a player, coming back, it just seemed more interesting. I knew I could kind of effect change and be a part of something. You let them see how hard you work and how seriously you take this. This is the most upbeat three-and-whatever team you can imagine. So it's not like where you have to pull these guys up. I'm here for all of them."
During his third of his four seasons with the Sixers, while on a West Coast trip, Brand had a small problem with a writer who was covering the team. The issue was an apparent rift between Brand and a teammate on the court. Brand settled the issue with the young teammate in private, the way a respected veteran can. He also politely took the reporter aside and explained the way things went down with the teammate. Not for publishing sake, but just to let it be known that all was well and there was no need to keep reporting on what he, and the teammate, considered a dead issue.
Brand knows the ins and outs of professional basketball - from preparing to play an 82-game season to dealing with the media to showing authority the respect it deserves. He has built a flawless reputation in the league, all the while being respected as having one of the most intense competitive natures. If you are an opposing player, he can be shaking your hand one minute, rattling your head with a beefy forearm the next.
He was given a uniform, instead of a clipboard, because, head coach Brett Brown explained: "You wouldn't believe what goes on at halftime when a coaching staff is in another room. And you wouldn't believe what goes on on the bench when you're down 20. And you wouldn't believe what goes on in players' minds when it's a two-point game with a minute-and-a-half left. It is so much deeper than putting a suit on him and thinking you're going to get the value out of him that I want to get out of him."
He will immediately assume the role of mentor to the likes of Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid, all of whom have battled with some offcourt issues during their time in a Sixers uniform.
Losing does strange things to people in sports. Doing it as much as the Sixers have over the past three years can lead to some big problems, and it has.
Rookie Okafor, who recently turned 20, has had three scary incidents off the court since the beginning of the season, perhaps two fueled by alcohol. There was also a tweet from a fan in Los Angeles who said Okafor's father, Chucky, was harrassing Brown from a seat near the team's bench.
The Twitter account of guard Kendall Marshall's father, Dennis, had a post saying that there is racism in the NBA and appeared to target white Sixers guards T.J. McConnell and Nik Stauskas as getting special treatment. Kendall Marshall has seen his time dwindle since the arrival of Ish Smith, who has been mainly backed up by McConnell.
There has been the hiring of executive Jerry Colangelo - who initiated the talks of bringing in Brand - and associate head coach Mike D'Antoni, leaving players wondering who is in charge of the rebuild and if Brown and general manager Sam Hinkie will be around to make decisions on their futures.
Stability is needed about as much as a winning streak, and Brand will provide just that. Brown has stated endlessly that his can't be the only voice heard in the locker room. With a young coaching staff and a painfully young roster, Brand will be that bridge between the staff and the locker room.
Yes, this offseason is so key to how well this rebuild will pan out with the draft and possible trades and free-agent signings. But in the meantime, keeping the organization from completely falling apart is paramount. In that sense, Brand is the best free-agent pickup for this team right now.
"Going to Duke, you always hear about the great big men," fellow Blue Devil Okafor said. "He was always a guy I heard about that dominated while he was in college."
Lucky for Okafor, now he'll hear from Brand.
On Twitter: @BobCooney76