LOS ANGELES (AP) -Los Angeles Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy was vacationing this summer when he was contacted with the stunning news about Elton Brand's ruptured left Achilles' tendon.
Immediately, Dunleavy's thoughts turned to his best player, and how much the team's style of play would have to be retooled with him out for at least half the season.
``A big part of how we played was through Elton Brand,'' Dunleavy said Monday at the Clippers' media day. ``There weren't any other Elton Brands around that you could pick off a tree someplace, so basically I started thinking about the idea of possible playing smaller and using a more up-tempo offense and defense.
``I'm going to give some guys a chance to see if they can embrace that and do some good things with it. So part of our training camp will be experimenting and maximize the strengths of some other guys. I have a plan that's set, which I hope is going to be fluid. If it's not, then we'll change as we go depending on how guys respond.''
Brand was hurt Aug. 3 during one of his daily workouts and he had surgery four days later. The 28-year-old power forward exchanged his cast for a removable walking boot six weeks after the operation, and will continue to wear that until the first week of the season before he is re-evaluated.
One thing Dunleavy won't have to worry about when training camp begins Tuesday in Santa Barbara is whether the emotional hangover from Brand's injury will carry over into the season.
``I had three calls from players right after he was injured, basically saying, 'Coach, don't sweat it. We're going to step up our game and we'll be ready to go.' I thought it was a very positive response,'' Dunleavy said.
Brand averaged 20.5 points and 9.3 rebounds last season when the Clippers were eliminated from playoff contention on the final day. He was forced to withdraw from the U.S. national team due to the injury, and won't be able to suit up for the Clippers until mid-February at the earliest.
Brand was in an upbeat mood mingling with his teammates at Staples Center on Monday, but the happy facade dropped when asked about his rehab.
``This summer's been really frustrating,'' Brand said. ``I saw Coach the other day and he said, 'What do you think - three, four more weeks?' And I said, `I wish. I wish.'
``Being on crutches for six weeks was really tough. I had some lofty goals for myself and for the team. I just wish I was going to be out there. It's kind of surreal - being here and not in uniform. I'm sure it'll hit me tomorrow when we start practicing and the guys are laced up and going hard.''
Corey Maggette, entering his eighth season as the longest tenured player on the roster, expects the Clippers to compete in the Western Division.
``Every year we have some kind of distraction or some kind of hurdle, but we just need to stay positive,'' he said. ``Anything's possible for this team. The biggest key to this year is playing together, playing hard every night and knowing that we can win ballgames. We have the personnel to do it.''

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