Here's a not-so-enjoyable plot line: Guy spends the better part of a decade killing himself for bad teams. Guy only keeps working to get better and better and to make those teams more competitive. Guy tears Achilles and works diligently to rehab. People start questioning said guy's motives for rehabbing.
Sadly, this appears to be exactly what is happening to Elton Brand in Los Angeles.
The LA Times' Jonathan Abrams reports that there has been speculation surrounding Brand's reasoning for looking to return to the floor this season:
There are two schools of thought to Brand's returning this season from a ruptured Achilles' tendon with the playoffs removed from the picture.
1) He is returning to show he is fully healed, heading into an off-season where he can opt out of the final season of his contract, in which he is owed $16.4 million.
2) He is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel and can offer hope for the franchise next season.
Brand understands the first but insists it's the second.
"People can look at it like that, but I've pretty much established myself in the league," he said. "I don't know how the off-season works, but I'm sure [other teams] could see me somehow without playing and have enough confidence in my ability that I can still play. So I don't think I need to come back to showcase myself to other teams."
"I'm not one to just up and leave a situation," he said. "I'm not a quitter. I owe it to the fans. I owe it to Coach [Mike Dunleavy]. He's out there coaching every single play."
That a player -- and more importantly, a person -- like Elton Brand feels the need to defend himself here is a sad reflection of the state of professional sports culture today.All of Steve's daily posts can be found in the CelticsBlog: NBA blog. Check him out!
It is hard to imagine that this guy could have done any more than he has over the past six years in Los Angeles (and his eight seasons in the league overall, for that matter) to prove his commitment level and his nature as a stand-up guy.
This is a guy who started his career in post-Airness Chicago, winning a total of 32 games in his first two seasons, which was right around the win total he was used to on an annual basis during his collegiate days at Duke. In case that wasn't bad enough, he progressed from there to the perennial doormat Clippers, who finished with win totals of 39, 27, 28 and 37 in his first four seasons in town.
Through all the struggles, Brand was nothing but a rock. He never complained about his teammates or the losing, choosing simply to come out and put everything he had on the court every night out. He has logged 38.3 minutes per game at the power forward spot for his career, and prior to this season, he had never played less than 60 games in a season and only played less than 70 twice.
The man has been durable, and he has been consistently productive as well as heady. Playing the same smart brand (no pun intended) of basketball he did under Coach K at Duke, Brand has never averaged less than 18 points per game in any of his eight seasons, and only twice has he slipped under 20. Similarly, only twice has he finished a season in single-digit rebounds per game, and never has he pulled down less than nine boards on average. He takes wise, high-percentage shots (50.5 percent from the field for his career, with his two best outputs coming over the last two seasons), passes well out of double-teams and shoots the ball well for a big man from the foul line (73.7 percent from the field). He has also been a defensive force throughout his career, blocking more than two shots per game, working his man hard and providing excellent help whenever needed.
He did it all for losing teams, and when the opportunity arose, he did everything in his power to make it clear that Elton Brand isn't simply a "good numbers on a bad team" guy. He spent the off-season before the 2005-06 season doing everything in his power to get in the best playing shape of his life and to augment his offensive game (especially from mid-range), and the work showed all season. Though the addition of Sam Cassell and the growth of many supporting cast players were enormously important to the Clippers' 47-win season, it bears remembering that Brand turned in an MVP-caliber campaign of his own that year, going for 24.7 points, 10.0 boards and 2.5 blocks per game and leading the Clippers to within a game of the Western Conference Finals.
Through all the trials and tribulations of NBA basketball, however, Elton Brand the man has remained unblemished in virtually every regard. He has been a leader on and off the court for the Clips, and he has been heavily involved in a myriad of charitable projects, from opening the Elton Brand Foundation to establishing a basketball camp in the Philippines.
Plain and simple, the man has been as stand-up and loyal a guy as the NBA has had to offer over the last decade.
If the reflex reaction from observers is that it must be all about the money for Elton Brand, one can only imagine what the perceptions of the rest of the league are at this point.
Brand has shown all the loyalty and effort imaginable over the past six years in Los Angeles. He deserves at least as much back in return.