Kwame Brown sure seems like an old 23. With the Wizards he was dissed by Michael Jordan, claimed he stayed away from a practice because he was so incensed at teammate Gilbert Arenas that he would have decked him, and was written off by NBA execs and the media as a Gen X slacker. But the 6'11" Brown, a power forward who was the No. 1 pick in the 2001 draft, is now toiling in the Land of Second Chances under the tutelage of Phil Jackson and the watchful eye of teammate Kobe Bryant, who knows something about being in the crosshairs of public opinion.
Will Kwame be able to find himself while wearing the purple-and-gold? The fortunes of the Lakers may not totally depend upon this beleaguered lad, but if L.A. is to return to the playoffs (Jackson's stated goal), Brown's production at least needs to surpass the numbers (7.7 points, 5.5 rebounds) he put up in his tortured four-year career in Washington, the first two of which he played with Jordan, who questioned his work habits.
"Kwame is just physically so talented," says Bryant. "It becomes a matter of making leaps and bounds to the veteran game, the mental game. Phil and the coaching staff are [so] good at teaching [that] game that Kwame is going to pick up more. When he does, he's going to do some big things."
But that's what everyone has been saying about Brown since Jordan, then Washington's president, plucked him straight out of Georgia's Glynn Academy. At week's end Brown was still confused by the Lakers' triangle offense. If he doesn't figure it out by, say, mid-December, having Jackson in one ear and Kobe in the other will make Jordan's taunts sound like a lullaby.
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Lakers
Kobe Bryant is going to have a huge year. He remains the Number 1 talent in the league, and he's going to keep this group in the hunt all by himself.... I love the idea of seeing what Phil Jackson can do with a limited bunch like this one. He may be standing up more than usual on the sidelines early because he has such a young team and they'll be trying to learn the triangle.... Everyone will focus on his relationship with Kobe, but Jackson is really going to earn his money by carving out significant roles for Kwame Brown and Lamar Odom--especially for Odom, so he can become the player he was two years ago for Miami. Odom could play the low post in the triangle, because they've always said they need a passer there. Brown's shooting seems to have declined.... If Brown doesn't come through, then I don't know how they'll get by up front. Chris Mihm wouldn't be bad as the fourth big guy in a rotation, but he's too soft and too often seems uninterested.... Point guard isn't so important on this team because Kobe will handle the ball so much. I like their second-year European, Sasha Vujacic, but it's going to take him forever to learn the triangle.... They'll want Aaron McKie to play a lot, but he is done physically. He truly sacrificed his body for the Sixers when they were good.
Coach Phil Jackson's teams have finished first or second in the division and won at least one playoff series in all but one of his 14 NBA seasons (1994--95).
Projected Starting Lineup with 2004-05 statistics
Record: 34-48 (T10 in West)
Points scored: 98.7 (12th in NBA)
Points allowed: 101.7 (27th)
Coach: Phil Jackson
(sixth season with the Lakers)
ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES