- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2004

LOS ANGELES — The Washington Wizards are happy with what they are seeing from Kwame Brown and rightly so.

Brown, the top pick in the 2001 NBA Draft, for the first time in his career has shown signs of turning into the cornerstone player the Wizards gambled he would become. One indication is that he has 17 double-doubles this season compared with seven over his first two seasons.

Some in the Wizards’ front office were happy to see Brown sparring with point guard Gilbert Arenas earlier this month over shot selection. To them, it was a sign that he was beginning to develop the selfishness all great players must have.

Brown has produced some impressive games. Eyebrows around the league arched when Brown used his 6-foot-11, 260-pound frame to contribute 25 points and nine rebounds in a January win over Indiana. Last week he put up 30 points and 19 rebounds (both career highs) against Sacramento, then followed with 27 and 11 in a win over Atlanta.

But even after those outings, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan never allowed himself to get too giddy. Jordan knows the key is for those numbers to appear regularly, not in the sporadic fashion that Brown still posts them.

“Let’s see how he comes to practice the next day,” Jordan said. “Let’s see how he practices. Let’s see whether he gets in bed, gets his rest and can come back in the frame of mind that he wants to do that over and over again. Let’s see how consistent he can get before we get too carried away with what he’s doing. Let’s see how good he is at challenging himself to be better.”

Those were Jordan’s words right after Brown punished the Hawks, a bad team that has mailed in the season. The comments turned out to be prescient when Brown struggled in his next two games against Miami and Utah — two highly motivated teams still very much in the playoff mix.

These games were a test for Brown on a different level. Jordan, a former teammate of Magic Johnson’s, said great players will get up for anybody and find a challenge under any circumstances.

Brown will be compared with fellow overall No.1 picks Yao Ming and LeBron James for the rest of his career. No one can argue those two aren’t invigorating their respective franchises. That’s why it is unacceptable when Brown disappears, as he did in the Wizards’ last two games.

Brown was invisible against Miami, scoring six points and snaring seven rebounds. And even though the Wizards resorted to chucking jump shots against Utah, it still doesn’t excuse Brown for his scoreless, three-rebound performance, even if Andrei Kirilenko was swatting away everything in sight.

“He changed the game with his defense on and off the ball,” Brown said of Kirilenko.

Changing games is what Brown was drafted for, even if that day is mostly still in the future. It’s the same reason why Houston picked Yao, the same reason why Cleveland selected James. It’s not fair, but it is the reality of the situation.

The Wizards visit the Los Angeles Clippers tonight in a battle of two teams going nowhere but Secaucus for the lottery. But if Brown wants to be great, each and every game is important because his NBA career is still waiting to be won or lost.

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