- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Doug Collins has lost his bearings around Kwame Brown.
With Collins the disappointing season, the 37-44 record and the divide in the locker room it somehow or another always comes back to the 21-year-old player who is two years removed from high school.
Collins has fallen into an emotional abyss and can't seem to lift himself out of it. He has been there in the past, in his two previous coaching stints, in Chicago and Detroit.
On the night of Michael Jordan's last game on Fun Street, Collins intruded on the feel-good proceedings with what amounted to an admission of a broken relationship.
"I've had guys curse at me in the locker room this year, show no respect," Collins said. "It was insidious."
Collins did not call out Brown by name. It was unnecessary. The well-documented strain between Collins and Brown crested in Phoenix last month, when Brown dropped the F-bomb on Collins and drew an immediate rebuke from Jordan.
Brown was wrong in Phoenix. He knows it. He admitted it.
Yet Collins, in the final hours of a season that was all wrong from the beginning, starting with the 68-point eyesore on opening night in Toronto, remains stuck on Brown because of the two-word insult.
Brown did not work hard enough. He did not want this season badly enough. He did not commit to memory every word dispensed by Collins and Jordan. Instead, he acted his age and was often out of it. He showed a lack of professional maturity. He showed, as all the precocious ones do, the initial folly of advancing to the NBA from the high school ranks.
In Brown's case, in the vicinity of the ever-impatient Collins and Jordan, the folly was more pronounced, even personal. Brown was their pet project.
Jordan, in particular, staked his front-office expertise to Brown, the first high school player ever selected with the No.1 pick overall in the NBA Draft. Jordan wanted it all with Brown, and given his massive ego, he thought he could be the one to accelerate Brown's development.
Brown did not have to be Jermaine O'Neal, who languished on a bench for four seasons, only to be traded for a serviceable role player before blossoming into an All-Star. Brown could be different because of the Jordan mystique, and because the kid so desperately wanted to please his idol.
Brown grew up with posters of Jordan hanging in his bedroom in Brunswick, Ga., and what a heady time it was in 2001, to meet this special man, to be drafted by him, to be in his presence on a daily basis. Brown made a vow right then. He would not let Jordan down.
It was an impossible situation. Collins and Jordan, tag-team partners, wanted Brown to be a viable player sooner than they had a right to expect. They would dismiss that suggestion. You see, they inevitably couched their objections around what passed as Brown's heart. They saw no hunger in him. They saw no drive, no determination. They expressed a familiar lament, as expressed by their parents' generation and the generation before them. They wondered about the quality of today's youth.
Brown often became the "young guys" to Collins and Jordan, whenever they felt obliged to publicly criticize him.
They pushed, they prodded, they questioned and they became masters of the backhanded compliment on those rare nights Brown flashed glimpses of who he could be in a few seasons. They would note the nice numbers, but then change the subject to his lack of consistency and direction and commitment.
The public listened and took good notes. At one point in Brown's struggles at home against the Hawks last weekend, the crowd treated him to a chorus of boos. He came to be routinely characterized "as a major disappointment" in news dispatches.
No, the Jordan-spun fairytale is not ending the way everyone wanted. The team's failure is hard to accept, the feelings raw, the hurt understandable. A deep breath is necessary, if only to stem the bluster of Collins and Jordan and the temptation in the coming months to trade away the only potential franchise player on the roster.
Collins and Jordan would be wise to remember the timetable, the one discussed amid big smiles on draft night in 2001. They also might want to explore the possibility that maybe, one chance in a million, they made a mistake or two along the way.
Brown, in two seasons, has hardly measured up to the exacting standards of Collins and Jordan, which is no surprise at all. The only surprise, really, is their surprise with this development.


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