Elton Brand heavy on minutes, mentorship in latest stint with Atlanta

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Atlanta Hawks’ forward Elton Brand said he never imagined logging more than 40 minutes in back-to-back games in this his 15th NBA season.

The Hawks brought in the 35-year-old former Rookie of the Year to provide veteran leadership and “versatility” to the team’s frontcourt.

Injuries to superstar Al Horford and fellow centers Pero Antic and Gustavo Ayon thrust Brand into the starting lineup for a eight-game stretch in February into March.

“I think I surprised everybody, including myself,” Brand told theGrio.com’s Todd Johnson of his increased playing time. “Coaches, management and ownership were like: ‘Hey, you’re playing great – we didn’t know those knees could hold up like that.’ It’s just been fun [for me] pushing towards the playoffs.”

The Hawks were a No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference at the beginning of February. They’re now battling to hang on to the No. 8 seed.

Former players, sportswriters and coaches continue to emphasize how important having guys like Brand on NBA rosters are to a team’s overall success.

Brand insists this is for good reason – and it’s not just because he wants a job next season. The former Duke Blue Devil has been a great model for young players on how to sustain a lengthy and productive NBA career.

“You have 12 players on the team, there’s going to be guys that are not going to play,” Brand said. “The way those 4 or 5 guys handle it could make or break a season.”

That’s where Brand has said he’s tried to make an impact on the Hawks – showing younger guys his work ethic and preparation for games and even offering not to play in order for younger guys to get an opportunity.

Brand went to coaches earlier in the season and offered to trade his jersey for a suit in order for second-year guard John Jenkins to get more game-reps.

When the Chicago Bulls drafted Brand No. 1 overall in ’99, guys like Randy Brown and Dickey Simpkins were players who tried to help him acclimate to the league.  It’s something he said current No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett could use in Cleveland.

“Cleveland, their owner wanted them to make the playoffs this year,” Brand said of what may be contributing to Bennett’s sub-par year. “It’s not like he’s on a bad team and they’re like: ‘Here’s the ball, get better young fella.’ And they have some good forwards on that team, too.”

Brand sounds like an NBA analyst-in-training when talking about Bennett’s struggles. Throughout his career, he’s made stops with five teams and recovered from season-ending injuries. He’s played and started in 30 career playoff games.

With his team clinging to the conference’s final playoff spot, a matchup with either Indiana or Miami could be on the horizon. Brand knows his squad won’t be favored, but wants his team to hang on.

“That experience is priceless [for our young players],” Brand said of why even an 8 seed is so important. “We beat Miami at home, lost to them in overtime on the road. We beat Indiana at home and then had a tough [loss] against them on the road […] I think we can play well. I’m not saying we’re going to win the series, but I think we can play well.”

After dropping 13 of 14 games, the Hawks have won three straight games and face the resurgent Bobcats in Charlotte Monday night.

Brand shares his thoughts on the UNC-Duke rivalry and all things March Madness in Part 2 of theGrio.com’s interview later this week.

Follow theGrio.com’s Todd Johnson on Twitter @rantoddj