While their more financially flush NBA brethren are busy wining and dining max-money superstars, the New York Knicks—in what’s become an annual rite of summer—will be left to fish along the free-agent fringes.
In an earlier interview with Vivlamore, Brand—while honest in taking stock of his age and mileage—still held out hope he could suit up for a 16th NBA season:
“It’s sad because I’ve been doing it for a long time and I love it,” Brand said. “Body feels good and I didn’t miss any games because of injury so as long as I can still compete and help out a team, hopefully this team, we’ll see.”
Bumping as close as they are to the league’s $63 million salary cap, the Knicks likely won’t be able to offer Brand anything more than the veteran’s minimum.
Should Phil Jackson bend and offer Carmelo Anthony a maximum five-year, $129 million deal—something the Zen Master is loath to do, per the New York Daily News’ Mike Lupica—New York’s commitments could skyrocket up past $80 million.
And while the league’s collective bargaining agreement doesn’t set a limit to how many minimum contracts cap-strapped teams can extend, New York shouldn’t simply assume Brand will bite—not with so many genuine contenders capable of offering the same.
Still, if Jackson were able to sell Brand on playing in the Big Apple (with Carmelo Anthony on board at a discount, ideally), there are plenty of reasons to believe he could be a compelling fit in new head coach Derek Fisher’s triangle offense.
At 35, Brand’s raw production has taken a tumble in recent years. But one look at the veteran power forward’s per-36 numbers proves that, as a second-unit frontcourt bulwark, Brand remains a viable threat:
Brand’s per-minute production certainly wasn’t lost on Peachtree Hoops’ Brad Rowland, who underscored the forward’s impact in a postseason post shortly after the Atlanta Hawks bowed out to the Indiana Pacers:
There are endless accounts of Brand's impact in ways outside of the stat sheet, but perhaps the greatest example came during a dire stretch in late February and early March. The Hawks were in the midst of their disastrous losing skid, and as you may recall, it was almost wholly motivated by injures. Enter Elton Brand, who averaged nearly 35 minutes per game (basically his age) over a seven-game stretch, and he topped 40 (!) minutes in back-to-back games against the Knicks and Bulls in a heroic effort to save the frontcourt from disaster.
Regardless of what you think of the "win shares" statistic (and there are varying opinions), Brand measured out as one of the most valuable players on the roster, even in his supporting role. Elton finished 3rd on the roster, behind only Horford and Paul Millsap, in win shares per 48 minutes, and even when accounting for total contributions, he landed 5th behind four starters in Millsap, Korver, Carroll and Teague.
That he’s managed such a long, steady career is a testament to Brand’s sneaky-smart style: Indeed, at 6’8”, Brand has always been something of an undersized power forward. Couple that with a ground-bound playing style straight out of the 1970s, his productivity seems even more remarkable, the result of a player for whom intelligence always trumped athleticism.
With the Knicks set to embark on a script-flipping foray into Jackson’s vaunted triangle offense, having a player of Brand’s makeup—savvy, tough and team-first through and through—will be paramount.
There is, of course, an element of practicality to the potential Knicks-Brand courtship: Assuming it exercises Jeremy Tyler’s $950,000 player option, New York will have just five frontcourt players on its roster: Andrea Bargnani, Amar’e Stoudemire, Samuel Dalembert, Lamar Odom and Tyler.
And while all four are sure to see significant rotation minutes, their injury history—particularly as it concerns Stoudemire—means the Knicks would be wise to bolster their bigs sooner than later.
The fact Brand hails from Peekskill, New York—just an hour north of Manhattan—lends the potential partnership something of a full-circle flavor: Brand remains one of the state’s all-time high school greats, a fact that would not be lost on the basketball-crazy denizens of Madison Square Garden.
Not that Jackson’s pursuit will hinge on sappy sentimentality—far from it. But with the possibility of next season being a campaign deferred, the Knicks could use as much good cheer as possible, even if it means giving a 35-year-old forward one final spin in the World’s Most Famous Arena.
Basketball-wise, it’s hard to say just how much Brand has left in the tank. As a low-risk flier with triangle potential, New York could certainly do worse than Peekskill’s Favorite Son.
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