The Detroit Pistons and GM Joe Dumars have a long history of turning reclamation projects into success stories, but recent free-agent acquisition Kwame Brown might present the biggest challenge yet to the team’s voodoo magic.
Brown, indeed, had better hope he discovers the magical fountain of invigoration that has worked wonders on players like Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess, and Rasheed Wallace in recent years. This could very well be his last chance to not only collect a hefty NBA paycheck—he’ll make $8 million over the next two seasons, with the last being a player option—but to eradicate his name from the top of the all-time NBA draft busts list.
As the story goes, the 6-11 high-schooler Kwame Brown was taken first overall in the 2001 NBA Draft by then-Washington Wizards team president Michael Jordan with the expectations of becoming the franchise cornerstone and helping bring that moribund franchise back into the light of NBA success.
Kwame Brown Photo Credit: Icon SMI
It didn’t exactly work out. Kwame became more famous for his small, stone hands and stubby arms than for low-post dominance. He averaged just 4.5 points and 3.5 boards during his rookie season, succumbed to the pressures of being Jordan’s first hand-picked draftee, and was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in ’05 in a package that netted the Wiz current All-Star and ETB favorite Caron Butler. So, yeah… at least Washington was able to turn a dismal failure into a resounding success. Better late than never, right?
Brown spent a few years wallowing in sub-mediocrity for the Lake Show before being traded as part of The Great Pau Gasol Swindle last year with Memphis. To date, he has never played in all 82 regular-season games in any of seven seasons, and his best year came in 2003-04 when he averaged 10.9 points, 7.4 boards, and 49% FG. At 6-11, he has a career per-game average of 0.7 blocks. In other words, he’s a defensive force in the paint the likes of which is rarely seen.
More on Kwame Brown and how he might fit in with the Pistons after the break…
Darko Milicic, Michael Olowokandi, Sam Bowie… Kwame Brown. At just 26 years old Brown has already entrenched himself as one of the biggest busts in NBA draft history, and with good reason. He can’t stay healthy. His immaturity has been well-documented, as has his poor work ethic and lack of in-game hustle. There’s not much offense to speak of outside the paint, he can’t shoot free throws, and he’s not exactly sculpted that 6-11 frame of his into a lean, mean, muscular machine.
And here’s the scary part: people like to joke about how bad The Kandi Man, Michael Olowokandi, was during his auspicious NBA career—and for the most part he was indeed rather terrible—but thus far Brown’s career averages in scoring, rebounding, and blocked shots are less than Kandi’s. Less! Of course, The Kandi Man has nothing on Brown when it comes to getting down.
Can Brown make any kind of meaningful impact in Detroit? A lot of observers are predicting that the Brown signing is a precursor to a big trade involving at least one of the Pistons’ current frontcourt players (most likely Jason Maxiell or Amir Johnson). As it stands, the team now has a plethora of bigs, most of whom deserve minutes: McDyess, Wallace, Maxiell, Johnson, Brown, Cheik Samb, and perhaps Theo Ratliff. One would think that even though Brown comes to town at a reasonable $4 million price tag, you don’t give that kind of money to a guy you’re not going to at least try and play for 12 – 15 minutes per, minimum.
So, depending on how the roster ultimately shakes out before training camp in a few months, Brown could, theoretically, be the team’s starting center, a move which would allow Wallace to move back over to power forward and send McDyess back to his more comfortable sixth-man role.
I’m not crazy about that prospect.
Yes, it’s a decent roll of the dice. Yes, he’s a big body. Yes, there’s still a kernel of potential left in Kwame Brown. Maybe being around a veteran team that’s had plenty of success will rub off on Brown in a positive way and he’ll approach the solid production of his 03-04 season. That’s a huge maybe though.
Time will tell, but I wonder how much passion Brown actually has for playing the game. As Phil Jackson asked, would he be playing basketball if he weren’t 6-11? Here’s a guy who had a golden opportunity to step up for the Lakers last season when Andrew Bynum went down with a knee injury, but ended up flopping miserably and was famously, repeatedly, booed off the court at the Staples Center. That was for a championship contender playing in one of the largest markets in the world: if he couldn’t bust ass and make an impact then, what makes anyone necessarily think he’ll do it in Detroit?
Brown will not be able to slink into the shadows with the Pistons… especially if the team does not follow through with a big trade later this summer. The spector of Darko Milicic still looms large, and fans will not go easy on Brown if he shows the same disinterest and apathy for the game he’s shown thus far in his checkered NBA career. I’m actually pulling for the guy and hoping for the best, but until I see otherwise my skepticism remains high.