Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sixers need a better Brand

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - In virtually every business, executives who get paid way too much to do way too little try to reinvent the wheel.

"Branding" or "re-branding" is a big catch phrase in corporate America. In fact, a lot of executives, looking to justify their bloated salaries, even tinker with winning formulas.

Anyone remember new Coke?

Despite what the latest hot-shot exec will tell you, "branding" is nothing new. It actually originated in the 19th century with the advent of packaged goods when industrialization moved production of many household items from local communities to centralized factories. When the merchandise was shipped, companies would literally "brand" their logo or insignia on the barrels used.

"Branding" invaded the sports world over the last 20 years or so. Looking to stick their hands deeper into the pockets of fans, many sports franchises change logos and jerseys every few years, thinking their most loyal customers will shell out the money for the new merchandise.

The Philadelphia 76ers went back to the future for their re-branding campaign this season, retrieving their classic red, white and blue logo used during their last championship run in 1982-83.

Change was certainly needed.

In a four-sport city, the Sixers are nothing but an afterthought, a nag in a four-horse race. The NFL's Eagles rule the City of Brotherly Love, while the other teams tend to navigate through peaks and valleys depending on the success they are having on their respective playing fields.

Major League Baseball's Phillies, who are coming off only the second World Series championship in their tortured history, have been able to pack their ballpark and steal the back page headlines from the Eagles on occasion. Meanwhile, the NHL's Flyers never win but are almost always competitive, and that seems to placate a small but loyal fan base.

The Sixers?

They haven't been relevant since 2000-01 when Allen Iverson was taking home MVP honors en route to an Eastern Conference championship.

"No pun intended, but there's a lot of pressure on my shoulders," Elton Brand said. "I know what I was brought in here to do."
The train began to derail when the nomadic Larry Brown, the only coach to ever figure Iverson out, took his tired act to the Motor City. Iverson's legendary selfishness then teamed up with Chris Webber's laissez-faire attitude to cripple one of the league's marquee franchises from within.

Billy King was replaced at the top of the organization by Ed Stefanski during the 2007-08 season and the Sixers looked to be back on track. A Philly native, Stefanski rolled the dice in a big way during his first offseason as the team's general manager, inking Elton Brand to a massive free agent contract.

Brand, a two-time All-Star, was coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon that cost him most of the 2007-08 season. He didn't look healthy when he took the floor with the Sixers and wasn't a good fit for the team's high-octane running game. A torn labrum in his right shoulder sidelined Brand again and the Sixers righted the ship without him, making a playoff run under interim coach Tony DiLeo.

"The main thing is, it wasn't Elton," Andre Iguodala said at the team's media day on Monday. "We didn't really have a concrete plan (last year). I think we had a Plan A, but no Plan B, C, so on and so forth. Just pound it inside and see what happens from there. Once that was shut down it was kind of hectic instead of playing our game and going with the flow."

With new coach Eddie Jordan and the Princeton offense now employed, the Sixers are hoping to finally garner a return on a massive investment.

Jordan explained to the media how his philosophy is designed to work earlier this offseason. New starting point guard Lou Williams will dish to Iguodala when approaching midcourt on the dribble. It will then be Iguodala's job to pass ahead to the forward (either Thaddeus Young or Brand). The forward will continue to move the ball inside to the center (Samuel Dalembert or Jason Smith). After each pass, a variety of options exist. The guard making the original pass to the forward will cut to the basket as the center is getting the ball. The center can drive, look backdoor or pass out to a forward for a jumper.

According to Jordan, Brand seems like a natural fit for the offense. He can pass, he has a nice mid-range jumper from the elbow and he can move inside to the pivot at times. In fact, Jordan envisions Brand, Iguodala and Young much in the same way Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler excelled in the offense in Washington.

"It's going to take time," Brand said of the new offense. "I know we can put the basics in, but once we have the basics, it's still more plays, more layers we can add."

Of course Brand must stay on the floor to make things work. He spent a lot of the offseason at a Los Angeles gym playing summer pickup games with a host of other NBA stars, including Paul Pierce, Ron Artest and Emeka Okafor, trying to regain his power and explosiveness.

"The biggest thing you lost is the physicality," Brand said of his injuries. "You lose that will to kind of just bang and hit people, getting hit. Once you're injured, you're thinking, 'OK, I don't want my shoulder to get hit.' or, 'Can I jump off this leg into a guy to get this foul?'"

Brand feels he got those hiccups out of the way in Hollywood.

"Once you get the physical grind of the game, you start to appreciate that again," Brand said. "You can add that back to your game. Then everything else is secondary. (Pointing to his head) That's all up here."

For what its worth, Brand looked imposing in the Sixers' new uniform. His upper body was as thick as it's ever been and he claims to have regained nearly all the strength in his left leg.

"He looks 100 percent to me," Iguodala said.

The new logo and uniforms are nice but will mean little to a basketball- starved city. The only re-"Brand"-ing Sixers fans want is success on the floor

"No pun intended, but there's a lot of pressure on my shoulders," Brand said. "I know what I was brought in here to do."

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