76ers ready to get going with forward Brand

Elton Brand was expected to sign with the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, and the power forward instantly gives them the low post presence they sorely needed to become contenders in the East.

The Sixers have called a 5 p.m. news conference to introduce the two-time All Star.

Brand's arrival is a huge move for the Sixers, who have worked quickly to become a threat in the Eastern Conference. He should provide an instant impact on the emerging Sixers with his 20.3 points and 10.2 rebounds per game average over nine seasons. Brand played in only eight games last season because of an Achilles' tendon injury, the AP reported.

Brand opted out last week of his contract with the Clippers, but Los Angeles was expected to make a strong push to re-sign him. Brand had said he planned to stay with the Clippers despite his decision.

The Los Angeles Times, citing an unidentified NBA source, first reported on its Web site that Brand reached a verbal agreement to sign a five-year contract in the $80 million range with the 76ers.

Now, he's heading back to the Eastern Conference, where he began his career with the Chicago Bulls.

Philadelphia targeted a big man this summer and had Hawks restricted free agent Josh Smith in town last week for a visit, but left without presenting him with an offer sheet. Smith will look elsewhere, or possibly stay in Atlanta.

The 76ers were able to sign Brand to a big deal because they sent forward Rodney Carney and a future No. 1 pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of a trade that cleared an additional $2 million in salary cap space.

The meant the Sixers - who entered the summer already $11 million under the cap - could offer a starting salary in the $14 million range. Brand had $16.4 million left on deal he signed in 2003.

Brand was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft out of Duke and spent two seasons with the Bulls before he was traded to the Clippers. Brand, a two-time All-Star, tried to leave Los Angeles once before as a restricted free agent. He signed an offer sheet with Miami, but returned to L.A. once the deal was matched.

The Sixers had been pointing toward this summer ever since they decided to rebuild and traded former MVP Allen Iverson in 2006. They started clearing contracts - notably last season's trade of Kyle Korver to Utah - to have enough cash under the cap to pursue a franchise-shifting free agent. Once Brand surprisingly spurned the Clippers, the 76ers had their man.

Sure, the money is why Brand is in Philadelphia. But the Sixers are no longer the lottery-bound losers they were a year ago. Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala, Samuel Dalembert and the blossoming Thaddeus Young turned them into a surprise playoff team, even stretching Detroit to six games in a first round series. Coach Maurice Cheeks had his team playing hard every game and he earned an extension from president Ed Stefanski.

The Sixers got only 5.2 points out of last year's power forward, Reggie Evans.

Now, Philadelphia has made a move that shows it not only expects to make the playoffs - it can be a contender. The Sixers still need a legitimate outside shooter to fill the role vacated by Korver.

Their starting lineup now looks like this: Miller and Iguodala in the backcourt; Young, Brand and Dalembert in the frontcourt. Willie Green, Lou Williams and Evans become the top reserves.

Brand's defection is another embarrassing blow for the Clippers. Baron Davis opted out of the final season of his contract with Golden State to become a free agent and is on the verge of signing a long-term deal with the Clippers. The Clippers planned on Brand and Davis to lead them back to the playoffs.

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