His shooting range, which is up to 12 feet, has to expand if he is to get into the Duncan-Malone-Wallace class. He's accomplished on the pick-and-roll but not on the pick-and-pop, in which the pick setter drifts away from the basket and gets the ball for an 18-footer. If Brand doesn't master that shot, it won't be for lack of trying. It's a matter of honor for him to be the last man firing after every practice, his wristy, low-arced jumpers drawing a steady mantra from assistant coach Rex Kalamian: "Higher, E. Keep it high."
What increases Brand's importance to this young team, though, is the fact that he's not an all-work-no-play straight arrow. Yes, he can usually be found leaving the arena in a designer suit, often walking beside the 22-year-old Maggette (cornrows), 20-year-old forward Darius Miles (baggy jeans, leather jacket) and 21-year-old guard Quentin Richardson (matching Argyle 'do-rag and sweater vest). Brand's epidermis is startlingly tattoo-free. As he puts it, "I didn't want to be 65, look at myself and say, 'Man, I got a heart with an arrow through it on me. How did that happen?' "
Though there's neither hip nor hop to his playing style and appearance, his musical tastes are in line with almost everyone else's on this callow squad: Jay-Z, Biggie, Nelly and Nas. He dresses down from time to time, too, looking, in oversized jeans and 'do-rag, as if he's Miles's older brother. "You see him looking like that," says point guard Jeff McInnis, who's an ancient 27, "and you can't believe it's the same guy who goes out of here in a suit."
Brand is aware that he has a size 15 firmly planted in each of two camps. "I love hip-hop, the clothes, the videos, the whole thing. That's me," he says. "At the same time I'm all about straight business. That's me too." That dual identity is what his teammates respect about him. "He's totally down with everybody, but his maturity level is high," says Maggette. "Even at Duke he was like that. It was the way that his mother brought him up."
Brand has put his brand of solid professionalism on the Clippers, no doubt, and with his contract running through the 2002-03 season, he has a chance to make an even greater impression. Nonetheless, Los Angeles is a loosey-goosey, sassy, unpredictable team—a teen movie in red and blue. Less than an hour before a recent game McInnis and Miles sat at their lockers, sneaking a box supper. "I'm only eating the roll," said McInnis. Miles, though, was going for the fried chicken. "You should see what I can eat before a game," he said. "See, I got the young system."
Before Brand's arrival, the Clippers belonged to Odom, who awes his teammates with his burgeoning versatility and keeps them in stitches with his street-smart argot. McInnis describes Gentry's calling for more defensive effort in a huddle, and Odom's blurting, " 'Sup, son, we gotta get a stop, awry?" Everybody looked at him and cracked up. With Odom's having collected two drug suspensions in eight months, however, some in the Clippers' organization believe that the leadership should be placed in more reliable hands. Or, at least, that Brand should exercise both his will and his vocal cords a little more strenuously. "I didn't want to step on anybody's toes," says Brand. "But after Lamar got suspended [from Nov. 5 to Nov. 20], I did feel I had to take a little more of the leadership role. We can both be leaders, each in his own way."
For the moment Brand's way will continue to be that of the quiet warrior, furious and fierce on the court, steady and serene off it. A recent postpractice moment found Gentry telling Brand that L.A.'s other pro coach, a fellow named Phil Jackson, gets a dinner from a top restaurant brought to him by his girlfriend, Jeanie Buss, the boss's daughter, before every game. "I told [my wife] Suzanne about it," said Gentry, "and she said, 'Oh, honey, I didn't know you wanted a nice dinner. Just call Jeanie Buss and tell her to bring you one.' "
Brand laughed and put his arm around Gentry. "I'll take care of you, Coach. What do you want, hot cereal or cold cereal?"
"Don't you make anything else?" Gentry asked.
"Pancakes," said Brand. Then he smiled. "Well, actually, my mom makes pancakes."