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What Happened, Elton?

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He didn't make the shot that put the 76ers ahead of the Celtics with 6.8 seconds to go last night.  He didn't figure a whole lot in the play that saw Ray Allen can the winner from the left corner.  He wasn't the intended recipient of the Sixers' desperation catch-and-shoot inbounds pass attempt as the buzzer sounded.  In fact, Elton Brand didn't do much of anything in the second half besides keeping his posterior planted firmly on the cushioned chairs that make up the Sixers' bench.

On a night that ended wonderfully for the Celtics after not going so well most of the way through, one of the most intriguing subplots not involving Ray Allen or Large Baby was the evening becoming another step in the disappointing saga of a former star.  Though Brand said after the game that he suffered an injury setback (hat tip: Liberty Ballers), which might explain his second-half seat, he looked none too good when he was on the floor.

The $80 million man played just a shade less than nine minutes in the Celtics' 100-99 win at the Wachovia Center.  Not a single one of those minutes came in the second half.  Wearing some sort of sleeve-brace contraption over the shoulder he dislocated back in December, Brand continued to look as he has for much of his tenure in Philadelphia: out of place.

The two-time All-Star didn't look like he belonged on the court.  He appeared out of shape and didn't look too smooth in getting up and down the floor.  The guy with six seasons of 20-plus points per game on his resume shot the ball just twice in his time on the floor, hitting on neither attempt.  He didn't do a particularly strong job of establishing his position in the post and didn't go up hard enough on either of the shots he did take. 

On the defensive end, Brand wasn't much of a factor.  However, he was in the vicinity while the Celtics were doing plenty of scoring in the paint, including some driving from Rajon Rondo and a dunk from Tony Allen on which no interior defender could be bothered to step up to help.

For the most part, the word that came to mind watching Brand play last night was "uncomfortable."  He looked as though he should not have been playing with a Sixers club that spent its month without him embracing the running game. Coincidentally or otherwise, Philadelphia was minus-2 with Brand on the court.  Literally the second he exited at the 6:07 mark of the second quarter, the Sixers began a 15-0 run to catapult themselves into the lead for a brief spell before halftime.

Perhaps part of it was the injury flaring up again, but this isn't exactly an isolated incident.  Brand got off to a rough start with the Sixers this season and averaged just 15.9 points to go with 9.8 rebounds per game when he was in the starting lineup.  That would be a career low in scoring (he's now at just 14.3 per game for the season) to go with lows in field-goal percentage (44.9), foul shooting (67.6 percent) and true shooting (an abominable 48.6 percent).  Before putting up 27 points in the game before his injury in December, Brand went for 11, 6 and 3 points on a combined 8-for-31 shooting in the three previous games.  Yes, he was coming off a significant leg injury when he arrived in Philadelphia, but he was supposedly fully recovered, and he didn't fit much even when healthy.  Since he's returned, the problem has only been exacerbated, as it's clear that the Sixers want to run, but Brand slows them down.

Right now, the attitude in Philly seems to be that Brand doesn't necessarily offer enough to make it worth slowing the tempo to have him on the floor.  That's a pretty sad reality for the guy once considered one of if not the single biggest acquisition of the summer.  That would be the same guy who left the Clippers under some murky circumstances after supposedly indicating that he planned to return to the team despite opting out of his contract, especially if the Clips signed Baron Davis.  They did just that.  Brand bolted.  You know the rest by now.

On the one hand, it's hard to watch what's happening with Brand without feeling for him a bit.  It's never cool to see anyone get hurt, and Brand has dealt with more than his share of medical issues over the last season and a half.  He was also known as one of the league's good guys for a long time.  That combined with his steady play and loyalty to a consistently bad Clippers team made it easy to wish him all the best.

On the injuries, I'll always sympathize.  But after witnessing the great escape to Philadelphia, his inability to fit in initially and his apparent disinterest in running the floor since, it has become simply discouraging to see Elton Brand appear as a shell of his former All-Star self.  How much longer will this continue, and how will it end?