- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 3, 2002

After watching top pick Kwame Brown play meaningful minutes on the same court as Chicago's Eddy Curry, one can only wonder what those pre-draft workout sessions conducted by the Washington Wizards between the two former high school stars must have looked like. Because if they in any way resembled the way the two played in the Bulls' victory Friday night in Chicago, there's no way the Wizards could have made Brown the top pick.
The 6-foot-11, 285-pound Curry, taken with the fourth overall pick last year, posted career highs in points (19) and rebounds (14) and was the driving force and at times the best player on the court as the Bulls extended the Wizards' losing streak to seven games with a 90-81 victory.
Meanwhile, Brown, forced to play 21 minutes because of injuries to Jahidi White and Brendan Haywood, struggled miserably. Brown had spoken excitedly about wanting to demonstrate to Curry and the Bulls' other straight-to-the-pros rookie, Tyson Chandler, that the Wizards made the right choice in selecting him first. But he did nothing to back that up.
Brown failed to hoist a shot from the floor while finishing with four fouls, three points and as many rebounds. He picked up three fouls in the first four minutes he was on the court and was never a factor thereafter.
It has been this way most of the season. Brown showed up out of shape for training camp and has been a step slow all season long, physically and mentally. The mental part can be forgiven, because it has been proven time and again that most players simply miss too much schooling when they go directly from high school to the pros.
The Wizards fully understand this and will tell you they drafted Brown with an eye on the future, not the here and now. Despite what the situation looks like today, they say that eventually no one will feel they should have taken, say, Pau Gasol, Shane Battier, Curry or anyone else with the pick.
And they also hope to be able to say that passing up a pre-draft trade for All-Star power forward Elton Brand who last week posted back-to-back 20-plus performances in points and rebounds for the Los Angeles Clippers was the right thing to do.
Because the plan in place calls for building the team slowly and meticulously, we'll give the Wizards the benefit of the doubt. Because they say the eventual cap space will allow them to be a competitor for future free agent studs Tim Duncan and Steve Francis are in the Wizards' cross-hairs it is still too soon to ridicule their decision to make Brown the first high school player ever taken with the top pick.
That said, it is time to stop all of this talk about jockeying for the playoffs, because unless Jordan can get back before the team embarks on a killer West Coast trip that will see them play six games in nine nights, the Wizards are lottery bound with a bullet.
But also consider this: If the Wizards had made any of the above-mentioned moves particularly the Brand deal MCI Center would be the site of at least one playoff series this season.
Think about it. When has the Eastern Conference been as weak as it is now? When was the last time the New Jersey Nets looked like the top seed in the conference? Imagine Brand's well-rounded game blending in with those of Jordan and Richard Hamilton.
Exactly.
Make the trade for Brand and don't even consider bringing back Christian Laettner for the absurd $21 million the Wizards have committed to. Let someone else overpay him for 7.6 points and 5.1 rebounds. Do that and then Popeye Jones making just under $1.4 million this season can come off the bench much fresher than he is now. And make no mistake: Jones, who would prefer not start, is "running on fumes," according to coach Doug Collins.
As for Gasol and Battier, it's true that horrible teams such as Memphis can make players appear better than they actually are. But honestly now, it doesn't take a genius to recognize that Gasol, like Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, is cut from that new mold of European player that is playing at a higher level, on average, than anything the NCAA has to offer these days.
And if there's anything a team can't be afraid of, it's pulling the trigger on a trade where there is some positive buzz. That's what the Mavericks did when they robbed the Bucks of Nowitzki in 1998 by trading Robert Traylor, never in shape for one day in his career, for the German wunderkind.
If anything, sticking with Brown buttresses the contention of Jordan and Collins that the Wizards are looking long range with this experiment and there is comfort in that. Too often this franchise has gone on a lark and thrown a huge monkey wrench into its own plans with no outside conspirators. How else can you explain the self-imposed death penalty of going four of five years (1996-2000) without a first-round pick?
That said, Brown has to get better in these final 25 games of the season. And then he's got to head off to Pete Newell's Big Man's Camp, and that isn't his fault. But by the same token, the Wizards had better be right about him.


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