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Unknown Quality

Lakers still aren't sure what kind of numbers they can expect from Kwame Brown, but they like what they've seen from him in the last week

December 16, 2005|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

Shortly after the charter jet had finished delivering the Lakers to Honolulu for training camp, team officials lined up to predict how well Kwame Brown would do this season.

Magic Johnson hoped for 12 points and nine rebounds a game. Phil Jackson went with fewer points, 10, but more rebounds, also 10. The guessing game was on. And a bit off.

Brown, acquired in August from the Washington Wizards, has averaged 6.3 points and 5.5 rebounds for the Lakers, with a rash of injuries limiting his time and an acknowledged case of self-pressure curbing his effectiveness.

What can Brown do for them? It remains to be seen.

It has been an uneventful beginning, with Brown mishandling passes in the post because of a thumb injury and then sitting out three weeks because of a strained hamstring. Jackson even started ribbing him about his toughness whenever they crossed paths in the locker room.

There has been improvement over the last two games and there is room for more with two landmark games for Brown in the next 10 days against the Wizards, the team that drafted him first overall straight out of high school in 2001 and discarded him four years later for Chucky Atkins and Caron Butler.

With his past and present about to intersect tonight at Staples Center, Brown said he felt relatively relaxed in recent days by "taking some pressure off."

"That's what was messing my game up, thinking too much," he said. "There's been no thinking lately, just playing. You've got to have positive thoughts.

"Stephen A. [Smith] and a lot of those guys do a great job of talking. I've just got to show consistency. As long as I'm being consistent in what I'm doing, people can't say anything. Then I don't leave the window open for that kind of stuff."

Brown's window for criticism has been as big as a sliding glass door the last few years.

The Wizards thought they were getting a cornerstone when they selected him over Pau Gasol and Tyson Chandler. Instead, he was criticized by then-teammate Michael Jordan, lost his confidence and looked befuddled in games.

His Wizard time expired when he almost came to blows with All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas during last season's playoffs, when Arenas told Coach Eddie Jordan not to put Brown into a game, according to Brown.

Brown skipped practice the next day because he feared he would physically retaliate against Arenas and was suspended by the Wizards for the rest of the playoffs.

The Lakers, desperate for a physical presence, acquired Brown for Atkins, a journeyman guard, and Butler, an up-and-coming small forward who would not have been re-signed after this season because of the franchise's desire to be under the salary cap by the summer of 2007.

"He has a lot of pressure on him, but that comes with the territory," Laker General Manager Mitch Kupchak said. "I know he has a lot to prove. There's things he wants to prove. He's 23 years old. We'd like him to make contributions and we think we can get those from him.

"We don't need scoring, although if you work hard on the boards and run the floor, you should score in double figures. I believe he's our best post defender. We need him to continue defending the post and have an aggressive nature on the boards. If he can get 10 to 12 points, which he should be able to do just running the floor and rebounding, that's what we could ask for right now."

There are two games in Brown's file that tug at the imagination of general managers and league talent evaluators.

In March 2004, Brown delivered a 30-point, 19-rebound effort against Sacramento and followed it up with a 27-point, 11-rebound game against Atlanta.

His last two games have been his most productive as a Laker: He had 12 points (making all six shots) and four rebounds Monday against Dallas and nine points and six rebounds Wednesday against Memphis.

"I just need to get comfortable, get eight to 10 shots a game," he said. "When you're so close to the basket, you're going to make half your shots. My problem is, sometimes I don't look enough to shoot. They tell me to take the open shot if I have it. I've got to constantly get in my head, 'I need eight shots.' "

But taking and making are entirely different worlds.

He talks about making nine or 10 in a row in practice and drawing surprised looks from shooting coach Craig Hodges. Then comes game time, and Brown's efficiency drops. He is shooting 47.1%, slightly above his career average but the lowest among Laker post players who average at least 10 minutes a game.

"There's a lot more pressure in the game," Brown said. "It's all mental. I've got to go out there and make it in the game. It's not going to be Hodges helping me. It's got to be me."

After Monday's game in Dallas, Brown talked about earning trust from teammates, saying he understood what happened when "you're on a team and they're expecting big things from you and they haven't gotten them."

Kobe Bryant followed through on the theme and acknowledged being hesitant with Brown.

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