PHOENIX — A year ago seems like forever ago, an entire career slipping away and returning to Kwame Brown in that time, a Washington Wizard reject now becoming Plan A for the Lakers in their first-round series with the Phoenix Suns.
Phil Jackson keeps emphasizing the necessity to pound the ball low to Brown, an unthinkable proposition only six weeks ago when the Laker center-forward was mired in a season-long tizzy, unable to catch the ball cleanly and rushing his shots.
But Brown is on the rebound from his hasty departure from the Wizards, who in 2001 made him the first high school player drafted with the top overall pick and four years later dropped him off on the Lakers' doorstep, goodbye note barely attached.
The Wizards should have been celebrating their first playoff appearance in eight years last season, but then Brown skipped a practice during their first-round series with Chicago. He claimed he was ill but later admitted he stayed away because he thought he would physically harm teammate Gilbert Arenas, who told Wizard Coach Eddie Jordan not to play Brown in Game 3 of the series, according to Brown.
Brown was suspended the rest of the playoffs, a total of seven games, and ended up a Laker three months later for the price of Chucky Atkins and Caron Butler.
He has stood out since Chris Mihm went down because of a severely sprained right ankle, averaging 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds since March 14.
A better finish than last season is beckoning to Brown.
"That's not even close to this year," Brown said. "The thing I was upset about was playing time, and I'm getting a lot of playing time. I don't see how that's going to repeat itself."
Brown, who averaged 7.7 points and 5.5 rebounds with the Wizards, started very quickly with the Lakers. Too quickly.
Laker coaches offered two words of advice: \o7Slow down\f7.
He was hurrying his shots, bouncing them off the backboard at angles that had Jackson shaking his head. Jackson also ribbed Brown about the numerous injuries he seemed to be fighting, including a hamstring pull that took longer than expected to heal.
Brown, 24, often found himself dwelling on his new circumstances at his Playa del Rey home. He rarely went out, except for practice at the Laker training facility in El Segundo, and spent more time playing video games than anything else. People asked what he did all day. His answer was the same: "Ummm, PlayStation."
"L.A. is a huge, huge place," Brown said this week. "For the first couple of months, I never even left home. I would go from El Segundo back home and that's it. Now I'm starting to go to different restaurants, doing some more things that are on the scene. You see stars and, it's like, 'Wow, this is crazy.' I'm getting a little more settled in."
He ventured out to the Laugh Factory, went to an Ultimate Fighting bout in Anaheim, dined at Mr. Chow, and recently spent a few minutes talking to one of the Lakers' courtside season-ticket holders.
"I'm like, man, that's Denzel Washington," he said. "The chicks go crazy over him, and I'm standing right here with him."
His game has gradually improved with his comfort level.
He has worked with assistant coach Kurt Rambis and special assistant Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to hone his post skills and create more on-court confidence. The early returns: There's room for further improvement.
Abdul-Jabbar helped Brown develop a more reliable jump hook and taught him not to bring the ball down to the level of smaller, quicker players when in the post.
Rambis sees a player who could be an "18-point, 10-rebound" type.
"I think he can get a lot better," Rambis said. "He's so quick. I think he can score. I think he can shoot the ball 12 to 15 feet. I think he can be a 75% free-throw shooter. I think he can defend. There's a lot of things he can do well, and there's a lot of things he can improve upon.
"He's got to learn to play hard the whole time. Sometimes he floats. He's got to learn to read situations better. Sometimes he doesn't roll as hard as he should. Those are all areas he can definitely improve on. His goals should be set high, and not settle for what he's done so far."
Although Brown missed a couple of easy shots in Game 1 against Phoenix, he had 14 points and six rebounds, enough for Jackson to reiterate the importance of feeding Brown often in tonight's game.
Fine with Brown.
"It's just been about getting comfortable in the offense and getting comfortable in my own skin," he said. "Once I got used to being in the city and being with the team, I kept working on my game the whole time. I didn't cause a stink and get down on myself. I just kept working.
"I've now made it my business to always look at myself and say, 'What am I not doing right? I would come in at night or early and get shots and try to do things to put the blame and the onus on me instead of trying to put it on someone else. That's kept me from having any outbursts, any problems."