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Kwame Brown back with Michael Jordan, both in different places


Kwame, I always knew that in nine years, I'd own a team and we'd be together. (Washington Post file photo by Joel Richardson)


The best thing about the reunion of Michael Jordan and Kwame Brown with the Charlotte Bobcats is that both men are in completely different places right now. Jordan isn't trying to scratch a final itch while proving to his boss that he has what it takes to be both a spectacular player and executive. Brown isn't a teenager weighed down from expectations to deliver as a franchise savior.

Jordan no longer has to worry about his boss, because he is the boss. Brown doesn't have to worry about expectations because he has been, for lack of a better word, a bust. Well, bust may not be fair, because Brown was placed in a position unlike any other high school player before him. Plucked by the Washington Wizards straight from rural Georgia in 2001, Brown was asked to rescue a moribund franchise -- while being teammates with the man regarded as the best to ever play the game (a man who regularly belittled him after once serving as a mentor). During my first year covering the Wizards, Brown told me, "It's not my fault they picked me number one."

No, it was not. Jordan's decision to draft Brown first overall has haunted both individuals -- and the Wizards -- for the past nine years. But the Wizards really didn't know what they were getting in Brown, who dominated his foes on the high school level with his quickness and size, then was asked to immediately replicate that success against grown men.

Brown was asked to be a pioneer when he didn't have the talent or mental strength to withstand all that was being thrust upon him. LeBron James and Dwight Howard, the other players to go No. 1 directly out of high school, were much more well prepared (Full disclosure: When I worked at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I covered Brown when he was in high school. He honestly didn't consider entering the NBA until March of that year. James and Howard spent their entire senior seasons thinking about and getting ready for the next level).

Looking back, the 2001 NBA draft is filled with players who didn't amount to much, with Tyson Chandler having a decent but undistinguished career and Eddy Curry fading into obscurity well before his $68 million contract expires this season. Pau Gasol went third that year, but even his future success wasn't obvious.

There really is no reason to rehash all of the infamous blowups between Brown, Jordan and former coach Doug Collins during their two seasons together. People in Washington are well aware that it couldn't have been much uglier -- with Jordan and Collins abusing Brown psychologically and perhaps stunting his development and passion for the game. That well-documented history made Brown's comments yesterday in Charlotte rather amusing.

"I think a lot of people speculate about my relationship with Michael. But obviously I'm here, so it can't be as bad as you guys think," Brown told reporters in Charlotte. "It didn't work out the way I wanted it to in Washington, but I'm excited about another chance to come out and turn this thing around."

But Brown won't turn around his career. He'll never be the player Jordan thought he could be when Brown destroyed Chandler in the classic pre-draft workout that solidified his number one spot. Deep down, Brown realizes this. But while he hasn't emerged as a superstar or even a serviceable starter, it is rather startling that he will enter his 10th season this fall -- and he's just 28.

And while his career has been underwhelming, Brown has had an influence on the league. His inability to cope with the pressures of the NBA helped lead to the establishment of the age minimum. The Wizards made three playoff appearances after dealing Brown to the Los Angeles Lakers for Caron Butler. And, where would the Lakers -- or Kobe Bryant, for that matter -- be without having Brown's expiring contract ready to swap for Gasol?

When Brown was traded for Butler in 2005, he said that it was too early to call him a bust because he was only 23 at the time. Five years later, who knew that Brown had already played his best basketball?

He had some okay years in Los Angeles, where he will most be remembered for throwing cake at Ronny Turiaf, but he has been an afterthought since he was dealt to Memphis for Gasol. He averaged 3.3 points and 3.7 rebounds last season in Detroit and doesn't even get booed as loudly at Verizon Center any more.

In Charlotte, Brown is merely being asked to be a big body; to simply clog the paint and rebound. He's also making just $1.3 million, which is almost a third of what he made as a rookie. So, this isn't exactly a second, third or fifth chance, it's an opportunity for Brown to extend his career. If he plays big minutes, great. If he starts, wow. If he continues to do what he's been doing, okay.

Jordan approved his arrival because neither side has anything to lose this time. Jordan's reputation is not on the line. Brown has accepted what his career has become. They are in different places now. Better places. No better time for a reunion.

"We're always going to be linked. I might as well come here, right?" Brown said. "Now, I'm a grown man and I know a lot of the things I've done wrong and with maturity I can handle it a little bit differently."



By Michael Lee  |  August 25, 2010; 12:30 PM ET
 
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Next: Ted Leonsis says Gilbert Arenas looks "fit, trim and explosive"

Comments

Speaking of Howard and James, you have to figure that, if nothing else, the disastrous handling of Kwme's prep-to-pros transition served as a cautionary tale for them, their handlers, and the teams that drafted them, a primer for what not to do when drafting a guy right out of H.S.

Posted by: kalo_rama | August 25, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

The ironic thing about the 2001 NBA draft is that, despite Brown's failure, the Wizards ended up with arguably the best player from that draft, Gilbert Arenas, who was taken in the second round by Golden State.

Posted by: rufus_t_firefly | August 25, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

I'd argue that point. Gasol's career has certainly surpassed Agent Zero's 2 1/2 year peak.

Posted by: WaPoLiveFan16 | August 25, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

According to Basketball-reference dot com, Kwame has earned $50.2 million over his career. Only in America....

That's $7,740 for every point, rebound and blocked shot in his career. Compare Shaquille O'Neal, who has earned $290 million but has only made $6,630 per (P + R + BS).

Posted by: jksesq1 | August 25, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Thing about that draft is it really wouldnt have mattered if we'd picked Gasul instead. Would have been nice to have him and the wins he'd have brought, but he certainly wouldn't have gotten the the franchise deep into the postseason and it's very difficult to imagine he wouldnt have left when the opportunity arose.

Posted by: divi3 | August 25, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

I'd argue that point. Gasol's career has certainly surpassed Agent Zero's 2 1/2 year peak.
===============================
I don't know if 2001 was a lousy draft but it's certainly true that the top picks, with the exception of Gasol, have been duds. However there are some standouts from that class, like Joe Johnson (#10), Richard Jefferson (#13), Jamaal Tinsley (#27), Tony Parker (#28) and Arenas.

Posted by: jksesq1 | August 25, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

OK, looking at their stats, I guess Tinsley has not been a standout (although he was top 10 in assists twice).

Posted by: jksesq1 | August 25, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Given the circumstance the franchise was in at the time, it could have mattered a helluva lot if they drafted Gasol.

Granted, he wouldn't have led the Wizards to a title any more than he led the Grizzlies to one, but we've all seen how, after decades of mediocrity, even a first round playoff trip was cause for celebration in D.C. As big a deal as it was with Arenas and Jamison in 05, it would have been a much bigger one a couple of years earlier (assuming that Gasol's drafting was enough to get it done) because it would have happened on MJordan's watch. Not only would that have had a major impact on how he was viewed as an exec, but it could have easily had the domino effect of Pollin not firing him and, consequently, not hiring EJ or Ernie. Wins and losses aside, drafting Gasol could have completely changed the direction of the franchise over the last decade.

Posted by: kalo_rama | August 25, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Replace Tinsley with Gerald Wallace.

Posted by: kalo_rama | August 25, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Real shame we missed out on drafting Adam Morrison

Posted by: divi3 | August 25, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Your point being? (Rhetorical, of course. By now we all know you rarely have one.) I didn't say it would have made him a better GM, I said it would have changed the perception of him as a GM, and perception is often more important than reality. His colossal blunder in wasting a prized #1 pick on a bust like Brown was the primary reason he got sacked as GM. It also gave Pollin some cover when all of the criticism of his decision to sack Jordan started flying. If he'd instead selected an all-star caliber big man who took the team to the playoffs, then the outcome of that situation (and everything that happens after it) changes radically. For better or worse, who knows? But the end result is that the team would be in a completely different circumstance than it is now. That definitely matters.

Posted by: kalo_rama | August 25, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Given the circumstance the franchise was in at the time, it could have mattered a helluva lot if they drafted Gasol.

Granted, he wouldn't have led the Wizards to a title any more than he led the Grizzlies to one, but we've all seen how, after decades of mediocrity, even a first round playoff trip was cause for celebration in D.C. As big a deal as it was with Arenas and Jamison in 05, it would have been a much bigger one a couple of years earlier (assuming that Gasol's drafting was enough to get it done) because it would have happened on MJordan's watch. Not only would that have had a major impact on how he was viewed as an exec, but it could have easily had the domino effect of Pollin not firing him and, consequently, not hiring EJ or Ernie. Wins and losses aside, drafting Gasol could have completely changed the direction of the franchise over the last decade.

Posted by: kalo_rama | August 25, 2010 3:41 PM

Now you see TS35. It is when Kalo_rama posts things like that, it is as good as any boots on the ground reporter posting any day.

LarryInClintonMD.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | August 25, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

I was glad to see that Kwame interview -- good work Michael Lee. I'd lost track of his whereabouts.

I used to vent and gripe a great deal back in the day about Juwan Howard's contract, because of how it limited the team's options, and I always thought Howard -- if he really wanted to win -- should have given some of it back in order to sign other talent. LOL! :)

But I never held it against Kwame for how that situation ended up. I blamed Michael/Abe, etc. but I always felt bad for Kwame.

Everyone knows that Michael is a freaking bully on the court, and that trait worked well for him over the years (in Chicago), but I think that it actually stunted the young (18-year old) Kwame's confidence. In the interview, it sounded like Kwame couldn't even reflect on those days playing with Michael, like they were just too painful to talk about.

Either way, I'm not blaming Michael for Kwame's lack of success, because he had plenty of opportunities elsewhere to get it together, I just blame Michael for picking him as #1.

Posted by: Independent11 | August 25, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

The eigth spot in the east is wide open. The Bobcats do not have a lock on that. The Wizards should at least grab eigth place.

Posted by: Theone9 | August 25, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

"Looking back, the 2001 NBA draft is filled with players who didn't amount to much, with Tyson Chandler having a decent but undistinguished career and Eddy Curry fading into obscurity well before his $68 million contract expires this season. Pau Gasol went third that year, but even his future success wasn't obvious."
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re: Pau- you are wrong.. it was clear as day--- wake up dude! AND AGAINA FEW YEARS LATER!!! THE WIZ PASS ON MARC GASOL AT #47- ??????? GRUNFELD AND Co.?? sleeping and drinking and partying on overseas scouting trips?

Posted by: yetanotherpassword | August 26, 2010 8:48 AM | Report abuse

@rufus_t_firefly, really Gilbert Arenas is a better player than Pau Gasol..LMAO why because he can score 50 points a game..ok

Posted by: kevenjones | August 26, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Gilbert Arenas aint even close to being the best player in his draft class, Joe Johnson, Tony Parker and Gasol stand head and shoulders above him.plz

Posted by: kevenjones | August 26, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

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