ELTON BRAND'S dislocated right shoulder will cost him at least a month. It remains difficult to assess what the cost will be to the 76ers, because the post-up power forward and the team's avowed dedication to the running game have remained a slightly disjointed work in progress.
Still, the injury to Brand, the centerpiece offseason addition, is major. When he crashed to the floor of the Wachovia Center in the third quarter of what became a 93-88 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night, he suffered a fracture of the humeral head and a tear of the labrum.
After sharing the results of X-rays and a magnetic resonance imaging examination with Dr. Craig Morgan, the Wilmington, Del.-based orthopedic surgeon who repaired Brand's ruptured Achilles' tendon last season, Dr. Jack McPhilemy, the Sixers' orthopedic specialist, said he did not feel surgery was required at this time.
The caveat is "at this time." Brand began a rehabilitation program yesterday and will be closely monitored. Surgery could become an option at a later date.
Brand was at the Sixers' practice site at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine yesterday, but was not made available to reporters.
He instead issued the following statement: "It's unfortunate that this happened, but we're starting rehab right away and I'm going to do everything I can to get back as soon as possible. While I'm disappointed that I can't be on the court, during this time I'm going to continue to support my teammates and the coaches in any way they need me."
Everyone in the organization remains convinced that Brand can assimilate in to the running style that made the Sixers one of the darlings of the NBA's Eastern Conference down the stretch of last season and, at times, this season. But for every member of the organization who feels that way, there are multiple skeptics, believing that when Brand is double-teamed, the other players cannot capitalize with consistent perimeter shooting.
Without Brand, the Sixers defeated the Detroit Pistons 96-91 Dec. 5 in Auburn Hills, Mich. In Brand's absence Wednesday night, four reserves scored 25 of the team's 26 points in the fourth quarter, running and defending exceptionally.
To this point, neither the runners nor Brand have fully adapted to one another. Nor has Stefanski accepted the possibility that the other players have slowed down on some fastbreak opportunities, subconsciously waiting for Brand to set up in the post. The Sixers' brain trust firmly believes that Brand is a fine trailer on the break; he also came to them with career averages of 20 points and 10 rebounds, and is a two-time All-Star.
"We had eight fastbreak points in the first quarter when Elton was on the court," Sixers president/general manager Ed Stefanski said. "We want that up-tempo style. We don't have to worry about Elton; he's smart enough to figure out how he's going to play in that style."
But the style, as it was against the Pistons and the Bucks, is markedly different when Brand isn't on the court. That's no one's fault; it is the result of the plan to add power to a game of speed and quickness. Thaddeus Young is likely to start in Brand's place tonight in Washington, and for the foreseeable future, although new head coach Tony DiLeo has the option of switching to Reggie Evans or rookie Marreese Speights against bigger, stronger opponents. Stefanski said he has no plans to add a player to the roster.
"When Elton gets back, he's going to fit in to that style," said DiLeo, who is 2-0 since succeeding the fired Maurice Cheeks. "We don't want to all of a sudden stop when he gets back. We're not going to stop for Elton. He's going to fit in to the flow. We have plans of how he's going to fit in."
Brand was hurt when he was pump-faked into the air by the Bucks' Luc Mbah a Moute and came down hard on the rookie forward, landing on his shoulder and rolling over. As Brand walked toward the bench, and then directly to the locker room, the bone was protruding upward from his shoulder.
"It was such a nasty fall, especially how big he is, and then to bring the guy down on his shoulder . . . having seen the fall and how nasty it was, I guess we're fortunate that it could have been worse," Stefanski said.
In a tumultuous week, the Sixers have fired their coach and temporarily lost the player in whom they invested a 5-year contract worth $79.9 million. Wednesday night's victory was just their fourth in 12 games, and their second straight victory at home after losing the previous five.
"You've got to keep going," Stefanski said. "It's whatever it is. I'm a positive person. When I wake up in the morning, I'm positive, because the alternative sucks. You've got to move on. Everything's not going to be perfect in life. It's a setback, but setbacks are something for a comeback, right? You can't feel sorry for yourself.
"Everyone gets injured in this league, [but] professional athletes are so resilient, even though they're upset . . . another guy says this is an opportunity for me to step up. That's what it is. That's what the professional game is all about."
The Washington Wizards, off to a brutal 4-19 start, could be without starting forward
tonight. Jamison, averaging 19.9 points and 9.7 rebounds, has a strained left thumb and was being listed as a game-time decision. *
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