- The Washington Times - Monday, December 9, 2002

When the Washington Wizards' locker room at MCI Center finally opens on Saturday, after the team has violated NBA rules that require the doors to open 10 minutes after games for the umpteenth time, second-year forward Kwame Brown hovers in front of his stall, all but ignored by the 20 or so members of the media.
This is no surprise considering Brown, a productive starter early in the season, received his first DNP (did not play-coach's decision) in Washington's 100-97 victory over New York.
Preparing to face the cold December night, a dejected Brown barely lifts his head. Just 20, the 2001 draft's top pick the only high school player in league history to be taken No.1 overall is struggling with his most embarrassing moment of the season and his newly diminished role.
"I just don't understand it really when you say in the newspapers that we're the cornerstone and the future and then we're on the bench," Brown says. "I don't know of cornerstone players that sit the bench. They say it's to get my confidence up. Do I look confident to you?"
Wizards coach Doug Collins opted to go with the experience of Christian Laettner as the team's starting power forward following Brown's two-point effort in a 95-94 Philadelphia victory on Nov.30. In 21 minutes against the 76ers, Brown, who doesn't touch the ball much in the offense, was just 1-for-6 from the field and had five rebounds.
Since that time, the Wizards (9-11) have gone 3-1. Laettner's insertion into the lineup has, for what it's worth, coincided with the Wizards ending a six-game losing streak that threatened to ruin their season. And in their victory over New York, Laettner played his best game of the season, scoring a season-high 15 points and grabbing six rebounds.
And even though Laettner is nowhere near the athlete that Brown is, he is very comfortable in Collins' offense and defensive rotations.
It appears the move, for now, has Michael Jordan's vote of confidence.
"I think Doug has made a conscious effort to put his veterans out there and let the young players fight for their playing time," Jordan said. "Ever since that time we've kind of found a better rhythm in playing, and now we're starting to put our identity on this team."
Jordan expects the move to leave a bad taste in Brown's mouth or, for that matter, any other young player who loses playing time. Center Brendan Haywood and forward Etan Thomas have both seen their playing time fluctuate.
"They should be [ticked] off," Jordan said. "That means you get down there, you start working hard, doing the necessary things and saying, 'Hey, I'm going to start stealing some time from the veteran player.' That's the attitude you take. If you want to take their playing time, you've got to show that you can get their playing time. And you can't do it with lip service."
Brown, though not at all happy with his benching, intends to do just that.
"I'm out of the starting lineup, then I'm on third string, now I'm not playing at all," Brown said. "This is something that I'll use as fuel for my fire. I'm a little confused right now. But I'm waiting for that day to get better. That's how it happens. Laettner was in my position earlier in the season. Etan has been there. Now it's my turn to go through it, and I'll get through it just like they did and soon I'll be out there playing. But I knew there were going to be some ups and downs. And this is a down."
Brown, who averaged double figures in scoring and rebounding in the first three games of the season, has seen his numbers plunge to 7.8 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds. Nonetheless, it is not easy for a player who has averaged almost 29 minutes in the first 16 games of the season to accept a demotion that has him averaging just 7.5 minutes over the last four games.
However, Brown is not the only high school player from the 2001 lottery who has been benched. The Chicago Bulls' two lottery picks from last season, Tyson Chandler (No.2) and Eddy Curry (No.4), began the season as starters. However, they have been pulled from the starting lineup at one time or another, and presently only Curry starts.
More than anything, these players, although talented, are not familiar with the nuances of the game, which Collins is acutely aware of. However, because he wants to win right now, Collins, who prides himself on being fair with players and never making anything personal, said minutes can be won during the Wizards' closed-door practices.
"There comes a time when every minute you get on the court is earned," Collins said.
But in the meantime …
"I'm not a happy camper right now, but that's the NBA," Brown said. "We've got a long season and I know that things will get better. I'll be back out there soon. But I'll always remember this. This is something I'm not going to let go. This is something that I'm going to remember and hopefully feed off."

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