Kwame Brown, former #1 overall pick and legitimate candidate for the unenviable ‘Biggest Bust of All-Time’ distinction, is a shining example of the power of the Los Angeles Lakers. Not two seasons ago, Brown was an occasional starter on an upstart Lakers team that had taken the West by storm, and he averaged over 22 minutes per game for Los Angeles.
Brown may have received more ridicule than praise, but under the bright lights at Staples Center, it was impossible to deny his existence. He played for the most visible basketball team on the planet, and as such, he was among the most visible players on the planet.
Then a funny thing happened. The Lakers snagged Pau Gasol away from the Memphis Grizzlies for a few first round picks, Javaris Crittenton (a good move in retrospect), and one giant expiring contract. That expiring contract was named Kwame Brown, and without the glitz and glam of the L.A. making him more or less a mainstay on national television, he’s slowly drifted from public consciousness.
It doesn’t help that Brown simply refuses to improve. Some players employ an exponential style of improvement over their formative years, where they’ll lay low temporarily before making big leap after big leap. Others are slightly more linear, showing steady, incremental improvement year after year. And then there are those like Brown, who quite honestly, may have plateaued before he even began. His body is more NBA-ready than his frail high school frame ever was during his early years in Washington, but from a technique standpoint has Brown ever really added anything to his game?
It doesn’t help that Brown plays for the pretty terrible Detroit Pistons, a mistmatched squad of talent that has Joe Dumars playing mad scientist. I’m honestly not sure what anyone expected would happen when the team dropped some major dough on signing Ben Gordon (a streaky shooter and decent, if undersized, defender) and Charlie Villanueva (a streaky shooter and a poor, if underwhelming, defender) as franchise cornerstones, but it’s not especially a recipe for success. Especially when considering the larger holes and problems on the roster. Namely, the center position, where Brown drifts through for about 14 minutes a night.
And it doesn’t help that Brown has a self-image that is increasingly dissonant with reality. Confidence (or really, disillusionment) has never been Kwame’s problem, as evidenced by a feature piece by Terry Foster of the Detroit News:
Pistons reserve center Kwame Brown rolled his head back in laughter inside the Pistons dressing room. Between beats of DMX on the loudspeaker there was the cackle of a giant man who didn’t agree with the latest lyrics from his coach.
“Our biggest concern and I have discussed it with him is defense,” Kuester said. “We have to make sure he continually plays the consistent defense that I want to in the scheme. That is pick-and-roll, high pick-and-roll. Just making sure he knows.”
If Brown didn’t know, he knows now. That is why he laughed when Kuester’s words were relayed to him.
“Listen, man, I don’t want something to be flared up on what I say,” Brown said. “I will do what the coach says in order to get better, although that is a first because there is one thing I do bring to the table and that is defense. That’s the first time I heard that. It’s the first time a coach said I don’t play defense. But like I said, I will learn to play the defense he wants me to play.”
…Brown remains confident. He started for the Lakers in 2006 when Chris Mihm was injured. Brown said he’s one of the top three defensive players in the NBA. That’s why Kuester’s words make him laugh.
One of the top three defensive players in the NBA. Kwame Brown. I’ll let that sink in.
It’s hard to be a Laker and not get noticed, one way or another. But as a Piston? A Piston who’s logging floor time behind Ben Wallace, Jason Maxiell, and Chris Wilcox at center? A Piston who honestly believes he’s one of the league’s top defenders, despite incredible evidence to the contrary? Well, to get noticed in that situation, Kwame needs to let his game do the talking.