THE 76ERS last night reached a verbal agreement to sign Los Angeles Clippers unrestricted free agent Elton Brand.

That means they have the low-post presence they have desperately needed and have a rugged 6-8 forward who has averaged 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in a nine-season career.

Their agreement with Brand and agent David Falk was expected to be for 5 years with a value in the range of $80 million, but could not be tendered until at least 12:01 this morning, the conclusion of the July 1-8 NBA moratorium on finalizing trades or deals with free agents.

The arrival of Brand, who was thought to be in Washington, D.C. yesterday, will create a major buzz in the area. But medical reports notwithstanding, the Sixers also have to hope he never becomes their Achilles' heel.

Yes, there's a pun in there, but there also should be at least a small measure of caution. Brand, 29, is coming back from surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles' tendon; he returned to play the final eight games of last season with the Clippers, starting six times.

Brand's Wilmington, Del.-based surgeon, Dr. Craig Morgan, told the Los Angeles Times yesterday that Brand's injury would not be a problem. Brand and Falk visited with Morgan on Thursday.

"If somebody asked me whether he'd be healthy or had any ongoing fears, I would say no [it's not a problem]," Morgan was quoted as saying.

Under the collective bargaining agreement, Sixers personnel cannot publicly comment until today. But Comcast SportsNet confirmed that Brand dined last night with members of the Sixers organization in Center City.

Neither Brand nor Falk had returned messages from media outlets in recent days.

The Sixers, who were working with about $11.5 million in available salary-cap space, were waiting for league officials to announce a rise in the cap from $55.63 million., citing sources, reported that the cap would be $58.68 million.

Meanwhile, various league sources were confirming that the Sixers had a deal in place to send Rodney Carney, Calvin Booth and the first-round draft choice acquired from the Utah Jazz in the Kyle Korver trade to Minnesota. The Timberwolves, stockpiling first-round picks, would absorb Carney and Booth into a $2.8 million trade exception, with the Sixers continuing to pay Booth's salary of 1,141,838, plus a 15 percent trade kicker of $171,275.

The Associated Press was reporting that the Sixers would receive a future second-round pick.

Mark Termini, Booth's agent, said he had been informed Booth's contract would be transferred to the Timberwolves; the Sixers could not make any move with Brand until the deal with the Timberwolves was completed.

The Wolves already hold first-round picks from the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics, plus their own. They would owe their own pick to the Clippers from a previous deal if they were to fall out of the top 10 in the 2009 draft. The Wolves, in a draft-day flurry, also acquired Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, Jason Collins and first-rounder Kevin Love from the Memphis Grizzlies.

From the Sixers' perspective, their wheeling and dealing put themselves in position to make one last push to acquire Brand or construct an offer sheet for Atlanta restricted free agent Josh Smith that the Hawks would have difficulty matching.

Brian Dyke, one of Smith's agents, declined to comment last night to the Atlanta JournalConstitution and did not respond to messages from the Daily News.

If all of the trade and cap details fall into place, the Sixers reportedly are starting Brand at a salary of slightly more than $14 million, which would mean about $82 million over 5 years, allowing for annual raises of 8 percent from the base year. The next order of business is to re-sign Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams, their own restricted free agents.

Brand, coming off surgery, averaged 17.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.91 blocks in 34.3 minutes. A two-time All-Star, he holds career averages of 20.3 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 38.3 minutes.

In 1999, he became the first Duke player to be the No. 1 pick in the draft, selected by Chicago. He spent two seasons with the Bulls before being traded to the Clippers.

The Clippers are said to have offered Brand a 5-year package worth about $70 million; Brand opted out of a $16.44 million contract for the coming season ostensibly to allow the Clippers to add a front-line player, which turned out to be the Golden State Warriors' Baron Davis. The Warriors are said to have offered Brand 5 years and about $90 million. Theoretically, both teams could have increased their packages based on the new cap figures.

Had the Sixers not acquired Brand, they would almost certainly have turned their attention back to Smith, the remarkably athletic and versatile 22-year-old restricted free-agent forward they heavily courted last week. His visit included a tour of the Wachovia Center, his likeness on the arena screens, a jersey with his name in the locker-room stall next to Iguodala's and lunch with Mayor Nutter.

The Sixers also are expected to visit with the Hawks' Josh Childress, also restricted, although a specific date was not set. Childress would be considered for a role significantly less than anything projected for Brand or Smith.

A source familiar with the Sixers' situation confirmed that since July 1, the team had contacted several free agents besides Iguodala and Williams. Among them were unrestricted Los Angeles Clipper Corey Maggette, who last night reportedly signed with Golden State for $50 million over 5 years, and restricted agents Andris Biedrins, of Golden State, and Nenad Krstic, of New Jersey.

In the end, though, the name that mattered was Elton Brand. *