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CENTRAL: 15 CHICAGO Bulls
Marty Burns
November 01, 1999
He lacks flash, but big things are still expected of Air apparent Elton Brand
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November 01, 1999

Central: 15 Chicago Bulls

He lacks flash, but big things are still expected of Air apparent Elton Brand

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By the Numbers

1998-99 record: 13-37 (15th in Eastern Conference) Coach: Tim Floyd (second year with Bulls)

1998-99 PER GAME AVERAGES

POINTS (rank)

FG% (rank)

REBOUNDS (rank)

TURNOVERS (rank)

BULLS

81.9 (29)

40.1 (29)

39.3 (26)

15.5 (16)

OPPONENTS

91.4(14)

45.5 (25)

42.4 (17)

15.6 (12)

They've never met. Not even in a summer pickup game or a Bulls charity golf outing. "Maybe it's because I'm from Duke," Chicago's rookie power forward, Elton Brand, says jokingly when asked how it is that he's never met former Bulls superstar—and North Carolina alum—Michael Jordan. "There is a rivalry there."

With a hearty laugh the 20-year-old Brand men admits he's surprised he's never crossed paths with the man he's trying to follow as Chicago's hoops messiah. "It's weird, because we both have the same agent, David Falk," Brand says. "I guess it's because David wants to shy away from any comparisons. You can't fill the shoes of the greatest player of all time."

The Bulls certainly learned that lesson in 1998-99. In its first season without Jordan and most of the rest of the cast responsible for six titles in eight years, Chicago limped to a 13-37 record and a last-place finish in the Central Division. Even more humiliating was an 82-49 loss to the Heat in which the Bulls set an NBA record for fewest points scored in a game since the advent of the shot clock, in 1954.

The saving grace of last season was that all the losing helped get them the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, a selection they used on Brand. Though he won't make anyone forget Jordan, the 6'8" Brand, who left Duke after his sophomore year, could be the team's next franchise player. With forward Toni Kukoc, guard Hersey Hawkins and center Will Perdue, he should also make Chicago at least more competitive than it was a year ago. "We have more talent this year," Kukoc says. "I think we can win 30-some games."

Strong like a bull, with pillows for hands and the wingspan of a DC-10, Brand is Chicago's most exciting rookie prospect since Jordan arrived in 1984. He can score inside and out, run the floor, rebound in a crowd and bang on defense. Although undersized at power forward, he makes up for it with balance and intelligence. "His body allows him to get separation in the post, he competes, he cares about defense and he just really plays hard," coach Tim Floyd says.

Just as important, Brand has shown a Jordanesque maturity in dealing with the expectations that come with being a high pick. A gym rat, he's usually one of the first players to arrive at practice and one of the last to leave. Before training camp he moved his mother, Daisy, who lived in Peekskill, N.Y., into a home in north suburban Chicago, just a few minutes from the apartment Brand shares with his older brother, Artie, so that she could help him adjust to his new life. The three of them often eat meals and attend church together. "He's very mature for his age," Bulls guard B.J. Armstrong says. "He's like a 40-year-old man trapped inside the body of a 20-year-old."

If Brand emerges as a bona fide star, he potentially makes Chicago general manager Jerry Krause look good on two fronts: making the right choice with the franchise's first No. 1 pick and giving an elite free agent, such as the Spurs' Tim Duncan or the Pistons' Grant Hill, reason to consider joining the Bulls. During the off-season Krause let go veterans Ron Harper, Brent Barry, Mark Bryant and Andrew Lang, among others, to clear salary-cap room for the 2000-01 season. With some $20 million in hand, Krause could make a pitch for a marquee free agent.

In the meantime Krause thinks he has two more building blocks in Ron Artest, the former St. John's star whom the team selected with the 16th pick of the first round, and Chris Anstey, a 7-foot Australian center acquired from the Mavericks for a future draft pick. A former AAU teammate of Brand's, the 6'7" Artest can drive, hit the three, handle the ball and even defend a little. But he can also act like the 19-year-old that he is; during the summer he overslept and missed a mandatory session at the NBA's rookie orientation in Leesburg, Va., prompting the league to send him home and fine him $10,000. Anstey, whom Mavericks coach Don Nelson once called the "best-running big man" he'd ever seen, is raw but is active and can knock down open jumpers.

Helping these baby Bulls grow up is a big reason Krause traded for Hawkins and signed free agents Armstrong and Perdue. Hawkins, 33, endured the worst season of his 11-year career last year, averaging just 10.3 points on 41.9% shooting for the Sonics, but he's a team player and a Chicago native who doesn't mind being part of the rebuilding process. Armstrong and Perdue know the triple-post offense well from their stints with the Bulls' championship teams.

With so many experienced hands willing to help him, Brand should adjust to the pro game more easily than most rookies. He also should benefit from the absence of zone defenses. "I got double-teamed a lot in college," he says. "I think [not having to face a zone] will help my game, in terms of putting the ball on the floor, trying to go by a player or just posting up." Still, don't expect Brand to talk of winning Rookie of the Year honors or making the All-Star team right out of the box. When asked at the team's media day to predict a headline we'll read this season, he simply said, "Brand saves game by recovering loose ball."

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