MEMPHIS - Elton Brand has the kind of personality that makes you want to keep coming back to him.
Just ask the 76ers.
Signed as a free agent in the summer of 2008, Brand played four seasons here that many would label unfulfilled. He was injured for the most part and at the tail end of a career in which the generously listed 6-9 forward was a consistent 20-10 player. Still, as he did throughout a career that spread over five teams, Brand made as big an impression with those in the organizations off the basketball court as he did on it.
Brand, who retired as a Sixers player Oct. 20, is brutally honest. Not in a way to make you feel uncomfortable, but in a way that you'll see things the way he does, if you hadn't before. He is street-smart and Duke-educated. He can stun you with a well-placed forearm on the practice court to send a message, then drape that big club over your shoulders afterward and explain why he did it.
Those intangibles, and so many more, are why the Sixers decided to hire Brand as player development consultant Tuesday. So respected around the league is the 37-year-old Brand that another NBA team offered him a spot on the roster just so he could be a consultant in the locker room. Pushed as to whether he was really ready to call it a career, Brand didn't take long to concede. His priorities are his two children and wife, settled in Lower Merion where they adore the school district and the proximity to the city. Brand keeps fit by yoga, riding his bike and just "doing daddy stuff."
But his love for the game, his desire to perhaps (he's reluctant to make a full commitment yet) make a career of being a "suit" and the intriguing possibilities of this organization lured him to agree to take this new position when offered by Bryan Colangelo, president of basketball operations.
He will help guide this young team in any way he can, but you could see his focus leaning toward those to whom he can most relate: big men Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel.
"I was so blessed early in my career to be guided by veterans, tons of veterans," said Brand, the top overall pick in the 1999 draft by the Chicago Bulls. "Guys like Dickey Simpkins and Randy Brown. They may not have been the main stars, but they knew the game, they'd been around, they knew what it took to last in the league, what it meant to be a professional. Sean Rooks, rest in peace. That was my vet with the Clippers. Tony Battie. We'd talk trash and beat each other up in practice. Those were guys who didn't want anything from you. They weren't competing with you. They knew that your minutes were your minutes. They were there to help guide me. They just wanted me to be my best.
"With this team, if you can be the best you can be and I helped facilitate that, then I've done my job. We don't have to hang out. We don't have to compete for minutes. I don't care what kind of car you drive. To take that next step and get to that next level is about winning for the organization. If you don't get your numbers tonight, did we win? That takes time and growth and selfless guys around you that don't care about that stuff. All they do is want to win. You don't have to shoot. If your role is to play defense, then you're going to play the best damn defense that you can."
There's no question Brand liked putting up the numbers that he did during his career. But the lack of winning he encountered during his time - only five playoff appearances - filled him with the knowledge of what it truly takes to win in the league. It's not about individuals, gaudy numbers or high salaries, but a willingness to do what is best for a winning culture, something this organization is trying to build.
"There is always going to be money here for these guys because that's just where we are now," Brand said. "You do what you do best, whether it's rebounding or playing defense, and you are going to get paid in this league. With the young guys on this team, it's coming. But guys are hurt, they have different roles, things like that. Roles have to be defined. I've seen the makeup of the players that we have and I see that in them."
Said coach Brett Brown: "The brief history that our players, Joel for example, have had with Elton gives Elton an immediate passport to Joel's respect. Even with NBA fraternity, sometimes if a veteran has something to say, you certainly listen. But the fact that Elton has been with us and Joel feels comfortable with (him) and (he) has a heck of a story to tell, makes that message a lot more genuine. It allows him to, perhaps, grow to other areas and let it be a continued, ongoing conversation.
"I think that Joel is fortunate to have someone like Elton, and it's one of the reasons we hired him and want him a part of our program - to have him as easily accessed as Joel can (talk to) by walking down a bus seven seats or walking over 10 seats in a plane and being able to call upon him when he wants to."
And once that relationship is formed with Brand, it's a great bond to visit often.