- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Kwame Brown is the leading trade rumor in the NBA.

The team in Orlando is the latest to express an interest in the No.1 pick overall in the 2001 NBA Draft.

This follows the recent rumors in Chicago and Atlanta and the rumors last summer in the Boston league and the rumors before then.

The interest promises to persist until Feb.20, the trading deadline, if only because the 20-year-old Brown is living the downside before the upside in an impatient business.

Brown is destined to have a long and solid career in the NBA. His size, athleticism and skills are the guarantees. Now comes the tricky part. His head is the X factor, as it is with most players. Is he a potential 15-year pro who makes two appearances in the NBA All-Star Game or 10? It beats those around him.

The question that follows is: How badly does he want it?

Michael Jordan has tested Brown's mettle, with unprintable pet names, among other things. A stress-induced bout of acne on Brown's innocent mug was the product of the test. This is the stuff of Jordan's legend around the NBA now, not unlike the time Jordan punched out Steve Kerr during a practice session in the championship heyday of the Bulls.

A knuckle sandwich or acne?

Those are the choices around Jordan's nasty streak in competitive endeavors. In Brown's case, it is undoubtedly personal with Jordan. Brown either confirms or denies Jordan's personnel expertise. That is Brown's burden, like it or not. He is not merely the first prep player to be chosen No.1 in the draft. He is Jordan's special project, the lead footnote in Jordan's post-playing days, the difference between Jordan going the front-office way of Jerry West or Elgin Baylor.

Predictably enough, the personnel gurus around the NBA hear this or that piece of gossip and act accordingly. They want to help the principals on Fun Street. Is there anything these humanitarians can do to enhance Washington's NBA life?

How about Eddy Curry and Jamal Crawford in Chicago? Nazr Mohammed in Atlanta, anyone? The Hawks, in freefall mode, are offering Mohammed to anyone, youth-league teams included. How about two first-round picks and cash from the Magic, which is not really an offer? That is an insult.

Of course, deals can't be made in the NBA anymore because of the salary cap, the luxury tax and Shawn Kemp's seven children by six women, except deals are made all the time. If you recall, Juwan Howard could not be traded because of his $105million contract. No way. No how. Forget about it. It just could not be done.

Now Howard is a rumor in Denver, which is different from a trade rumor. Being an NBA player in Denver is like being a tree branch that falls in the forest. If no one is there to chronicle it, the falling tree branch or a game involving the Nuggets, did it really happen?

As it is, the Wizards work in mysterious ways. Everyone seems to know how it works with Wes Unseld, Doug Collins and Jordan, which is pretty good, if you believe in the human-fly-on-the-wall theory.

Collins has felt compelled to quash the rumors involving Brown, which is his duty. What is he supposed to say? Is he supposed to say that, yes, we love Brown, but this is a win-now business, and this is Jordan's last season, and the Jerry Stackhouse contract matter is undecided, and if someone makes us a crazy offer, well, we owe it to ourselves and to our long-suffering fans to at least listen?

Please. Collins is just one part of the brain trust, and to be honest, he is the one of the three who is most likely to be on layover in Tony Cheng's neighborhood and the one least likely to receive the full benefits of Brown's potential, whatever it turns out to be.

Brown, no doubt, is in a hurry to be Jordan's favorite son, which is one of the problems.

As John Wooden used to instruct his players: Be quick, but don't be in a hurry.

Brown's frantic manner sometimes results in the ball-off-the-foot dribbling maneuver and an inability to see what is around him. He has yet to understand the benefit of the re-post tactic, perhaps because he questions whether the ball will find its way to him again. It is a delicate process involving trust and court awareness.

Brown's ability to grasp the game's defensive nuances is another work in progress. How do you defend that guy? What is his favorite move? What are his tendencies? How do you complete the principal assignment, plus react in time to help a teammate who has been beaten off the dribble? Are you discovering that rebounding is more about positioning than leaping ability, that the next time Charles Oakley jumps to grab a rebound this season will be the first time and that Jordan is a master of the floor-bound rebound as well, mostly because he has an intuitive sense of where an errant shot is going to be?

There also is this: Just how flat-out tough are you? How receptive are you to instruction? Do you want to be a victim or a player? Self-pity is an unbecoming quality in a multimillionaire.

With Collins pushing the on-court buttons, the Wizards have straddled the past and future, represented by Jordan and Brown, about as well as can be expected.

The push to make a playoff rush this season is understandable, and hardly a sacrifice to the future of the franchise unless you believe in the merit of a 25-57 basketball team. The urge to make one last personnel move in conjunction with this season is tempting, and Brown is the most tempting player on the roster.

The question then becomes: Would such a move possibly put the Wizards in the company of the Pacers and Nets, the two leading teams in the Eastern Conference? That has to be the barometer.

Otherwise, the Wizards already are in the mix of conference teams in the 3-8 range, as Collins has noted. The Wizards are permitted to believe in the possibilities. Who knows with Brown anyway? Some nights, it seems as if he is starting to get there, as if by springtime, he just might be modestly consistent, almost dependable.

That is the short-term hope. The long-term hope with Brown is Jermaine O'Neal, who barely had a career in his four seasons with the Trail Blazers. Now look at him with the Pacers, averaging a 20-10.

The Wizards are not apt to trade Brown, barring a ridiculous offer by a desperate sort. Besides, Brown is not necessarily the only member of the team with trade appeal. Magic coach Doc Rivers also likes Brendan Haywood, amusing as that is, considering Haywood landed in Washington by way of Orlando in exchange for Laron Profit before last season.

There are about five weeks left in the rumor-filled portion of the NBA season.

Brown might as well adopt the position of Sally Field: "You like me. You really like me."

The 29 teams of the NBA like Brown. They really like him.


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