Elton Brand's Search For A Niche

Philadelphia 76ers' Elton Brand, center, can't get off a shot between Phoenix Suns' Amare Stoudemire, left, and Channing Frye in the first half of an NBA basketball game. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

I don't see a lack of confidence in Elton Brand.

I don't sense him having doubts about himself.

I do sense . . . puzzlement.

Watching the 76ers' games, seeing him in practice, paying close attention to his interviews, I sense a guy in search of the rugged, bruising power forward he used to be.

But whatever he's looking for, coach Eddie Jordan apparently doesn't see it, either. Going in to tonight's game in New Jersey, Brand hasn't been on the court in two of the last three fourth quarters. He only appeared in the other one after Marreese Speights went out with a banged knee.

I'll accept that Jordan's eye, as an experienced coach, is more trained than mine, but I still don't see the explosion in Brand's legs. I see him bumping and grinding and using his strength and body positioning, but still struggling to break free for his mid-range jump shot or a hard move to the rim.

When Brand was with the Los Angeles Clippers, he knew when he'd be on the court, where he'd be spotted, how he'd be used. He doesn't seem to have that comfort zone yet. And it's even harder to find when some of the players around him, notably center Samuel Dalembert, are equally struggling. Those two have been trying to locate chemistry since early last season.

''I don't think I've had the opportunity to be out there and say 'Hey, let's do something different,''' Brand said after Tuesday's practice.

But understand this: Unless Jordan has a sudden, dramatic change of plans, the starting lineup will remain in place.

"We look at Elton and Sam as our starting 4 and 5 (power forward and center),'' Jordan said. ''We give them the chance to keep those minutes. They won that in training camp.''

And if, for the moment, that means Speights and Jason Smith are on the court down the stretch, so be it.

I don't think Jordan's plan is etched in stone for even the next 8-10 games, but I do believe Brand--as a veteran and as a major free agent acquisition--has earned the right to try and play his way back.