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He's Human After All

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You know that Five For Fighting song, the overplayed one about Superman claiming to be “only a man in a funny red sheet”? Somewhere around LA this morning, Elton Brand must be singing those words to himself as he climbs out of bed.

With apologies to Shaq Diesel, Brand has been his team’s Superman for several years now. He’s been historically underappreciated because he’s always been on lousy teams, but he’s been one of the most consistent performers in the NBA since entering the league despite frequently being the only legitimate player on his team. He’s averaged over 38 minutes a game, and noted for his unending motor. He’s never seemed to be weighed down by the burden of responsibility of being the go-to-guy, of the expectations of being the #1 overall draft pick and cornerstone of a franchise. And when the stakes were highest, like last year’s playoffs, Brand was at his best.

So we’ve all come to expect that Elton is going to be Elton, the one player that can always be counted on to deliver a star performance befitting of his stature. Yet this season, alarm bells are ringing because after five games, Mr. Dependable is off to a slow start. Entering this afternoon’s game with the Hornets, Brand is averaging only 14.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, 48.4% from the field, and 54.5% from the line, as compared to 24.7/10.0/52.7%/77.5% last year. He has been less active, more tentative, and more passive. Everyone seems to be asking the question, what is wrong with Elton Brand?

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Reports are that Brand is suffering from fatigue, after a summer consumed by national team duties, exhibition games in Russia, and his film production company (which he has since taken a step back from). Quite frankly, it's no surprise given the amount of miles he logged during the offseason, following the longest season of his career in which he played 91 games, including the playoffs. What is perhaps more surprising is that Elton hasn't broken down sooner: I'm sure it gets tiring to carry the team on your back year after year.

Fortunately, it appears that he doesn't have to fully carry the load right now, as the Clippers are 4-1 and in first place in spite of Brand's abnormally low output. Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley have performed admirably in picking up the slack in scoring (up 8 points from last year's averages), while frontcourt players like Corey Maggette and Tim Thomas have filled the void on the glass (up 5 rebounds from last year's averages). The Clippers are also in the middle of a stretch where they only play three games in 12 days. While a couple of light weeks is not going to compensate for all of the wear and tear, Elton finally has the luxury of being surrounded by stellar players that can allow him to gradually regain his second wind.

For the Clippers to ultimately find success this year, Brand will eventually have to don his Superman cape. But the fact that he's got a Justice League-type of team to support him means that he can allow himself to be a little more vulnerable for once. So Elton, get some rest, you'll know when you're truly needed to be you.

AP photo by Kevork Djansezian