Ed Stefanski, the 76ers' president/general manager, sees what we all see: The Sixers seem to run a little more effectively in the absence of Elton Brand, the power forward who went down Dec. 17 against the Milwaukee Bucks with a dislocated right shoulder.
The Sixers are off to a distressing 13-20 start, including a record of 4-6 under Tony DiLeo, the coaching the replacement for the fired Maurice Cheeks. They're 2-6 without Brand, and were 1-5 on their just completed trek that took them from Boston to Denver, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Dallas and San Antonio. Their only victory came against the injury-depleted Clippers.
Brand, the 6-9 power forward who was heralded virtually unanimously around the NBA as the most impactful free agent signing during the summer, is expected to miss another 10 days to two weeks as he continues his rehabilitation process. He is scheduled to be re-evaluated later this week by Dr. Craig Morgan, his personal orthopedic surgeon, and Dr. Jack McPhilemy, the Sixers' orthopedic specialist.
''They will determine whether Elton is ready for some live action, but they agree that we've bypassed the time in which surgery might have been necessary,'' Stefanski said. ''They also agree that, given the force he took in a freak fall, with an opposing player landing right on his shoulder, they're very happy and relieved the injury wasn't worse.''
The Sixers, despite all their problems, lead the league in fast break scoring and Stefanski remains convinced that they can be even more effective in that area when Brand returns.
''To me, he's a true trailer on the break,'' Stefanski said. ''What I want to happen is that when he returns the other players continue to play as they have and that Elton fits in. Elton will figure it out. He knew what he was getting in to. He was averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds when he got hurt, and we felt that he was getting better and better. As time goes on, he'll get more comfortable and they'll get more comfortable with him.''
But make no mistake, Stefanski is as disappointed as anyone at the way the season has unfolded.
''Flat out, no one is happy, from the from the front office and coaches on,'' he said. ''No one in the locker room is happy. We all believe we have to play better than we have been, but I'd like to see more with Elton.''
He still sees the possibility of the team reaching the playoffs.
''I'm hoping,'' he said. ''I'm hoping, as Elton comes back, we can turn this around. I know one thing: We're not giving up until they tell us we're done.''
It's more than fair to say, though, that even though Stefanski sees what we all see, he's much more optimistic than most.