Elton Brand Believes the 76ers’ Backup Center Problem is a Thing of the Past

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Editor

The achilles heel of the Philadelphia 76ers last season was the lack of a proven, productive option to back up superstar big man Joel Embiid. General manager Elton Brand showed that he made filling that hole a top priority this offseason when he made multiple moves to shore up the backup center position on the team's roster. 

The 76ers agreed to terms with multi-time All Star Al Horford on a four-year deal worth up to $109 million on the opening night of the NBA's free agency period. 

"Al Horford is a proven leader and a proven winner. Playoffs every single year. I know what he brings to the table not only as a starter with Joel [Embiid] but also being able to spell Joel at the five is very important for us," Brand said in this afternoon's introductory press conference. "He's helping to push us much closer to our goal of winning a championship."

Horford can benefit the 76ers' roster in multiple ways, with perhaps one of the biggest being his ability to spell Embiid when the oft-injured big man is needing a night off or is on the bench. While his main role on the team will be at starting power forward, Horford's ability to back up Embiid is something crucial that the team needs if they are to avoid having a repeat of the playoff series loss to the Toronto Raptors in last year's Eastern Conference Semifinals. 

Embiid is an extremely talented player who, when healthy, can perform at an MVP level. However, he has missed a combined 88 games through his first three seasons. Not having a productive backup center has been something that has hurt the Sixers over the past couple of seasons, especially come the playoffs. Philadelphia was a plus-90 with Embiid on the floor during the playoff series loss to the Raptors. However, they were historically bad as a team in that series with him off the floor, going a minus-111

Having someone who the team has confidence in backing up Embiid is important also because it will put less pressure on the big man to try to play as many minutes and games as possible. Keeping Embiid healthy and fresh for the postseason is something that will be beneficial for all parties. The days of the big man playing almost 34 minutes per game in the regular season are in the past. 

Embiid, when asked previously about possibly sitting out games such as the second half of a back-to-back, used to scoff and say that he would try to play in every game possible. However, he has matured over the past couple of seasons and now realizes that keeping him healthy for the postseason is more important than playing his heart out every chance he gets in the regular season. 

"When I spoke to Joel [Embiid], he understood that our goal is to deliver the best Joel Embiid to the postseason. Whatever that takes, he's onboard for that," Brand said. "Having these options, we did fall off a cliff once Joel was off the court, especially defensively, so having these great options now bodes well for our success and he's onboard for sure."

For the first time in his career, Embiid has someone who is more than capable of spelling him when he is off the court.

"The opportunity to have Al [Horford] back him up at times, especially in the playoffs, and be the five is a great opportunity for us," Brand said. "Kyle [O'Quinn] is going to step in there too when needed to bolster that hole that we had. It was a huge deficit last year as you know, and we corrected that."

The additions of Horford and, to a lesser extent, Kyle O'Quinn seem to have indeed corrected what was once a debilitating issue for a team that was trying to contend for a NBA championship.