By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 15, 2005
Kwame Brown no longer has to deal with the weight of lofty expectations. The team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2001 no longer has to suffer through his inability to meet them. The Washington Wizards agreed in principle yesterday to a sign-and-trade deal that would send Brown to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for swingman Caron Butler and point guard Chucky Atkins, Brown's Los Angeles-based agent Arn Tellem said.
Tellem met with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak this week and the two sides agreed to a three-year deal worth $25 million. Brown, who was a restricted free agent, will earn $16 million the first two years, and the Lakers will hold a team option for the third year that would pay him about $9 million.
In his first year with the Lakers, the 7-foot, 270-pound Brown will make slightly more than the $6.9 million qualifying offer the Wizards extended him. "It's our intention to sign with the Wizards and be traded to the Lakers," Tellem said by phone yesterday. "He's excited about the possibility of getting a fresh start and going to a great team with a great history."
In a telephone interview last night, Brown refused to criticize the Wizards and shed little light on his suspension from the team during the playoffs, but vowed to prove his critics in Washington wrong.
"I'm not concerned with how I will be remembered in Washington," Brown said. "I'm concerned with how I'm remembered from this point on. It's about starting over and building a new legacy. This is a resurrection."
Brown did acknowledge making some mistakes during his time in Washington.
"I did some unprofessional things. It's in the past and I'm ready to move on. I can't have any regrets. If you live your life with regrets, you'll never move on. All the stuff that happened to me is ultimately going to make the person and the player that I'm going to become."
Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld declined to comment on the deal. Free agent deals cannot be finalized until at least July 22, when the new collective bargaining agreement is expected to be ratified.
The Wizards and Brown both agreed that it was time to part ways following Brown's rocky four-year stint in Washington, which began with extraordinary -- perhaps unfair -- expectations and ended with him buckling under the pressure, and frustration leading to his postseason suspension. Tellem said he thinks a fresh start "will be good for him."
Brown, 23, became the first high school player drafted with the top overall pick, in 2001, but he has struggled to turn his potential into production for the Wizards and became a walking advertisement for the new age minimum in the latest collective bargaining agreement. Brown had public disputes with former teammate Michael Jordan and former coach Doug Collins in his first two seasons and, although he displayed some promise in his third season, he was never able to live up to his billing.
Brown, however, said it's too early to call him a bust. "Someone has a full career ahead of them and you're already calling him a bust?" Brown asked angrily. "Most of the people who write that never picked up a basketball in their life. I still have a full career ahead of me. If I turn it around in L.A., that's all I care about now. Turning it around and playing up to my potential. And, those same writers who wrote that will have to recant those statements."
Wizards fans' frustrations with Brown boiled over last season, when he averaged just 7.0 points and 4.9 rebounds and was routinely booed at home games as MCI Center became a personal pressure-cooker for Brown. "I wouldn't use the word hurt," Brown said of his feelings about being jeered at home. "It was upsetting and frustrating because you always want your fans on your side. I don't think it hurt. With all the stuff I've been through, I'm not going to be hurt over a simple boo."
The Wizards' push to trade Brown grew when he was suspended following Game 4 of the team's playoff series against the Chicago Bulls. It intensified when guard Larry Hughes informed the team last week that he wouldn't return and would sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Wizards had engaged in discussions with Memphis, Indiana, New York and Toronto, among others, regarding a sign-and-trade deal involving Brown. The Lakers became the front-runners. Brown was intrigued by the possibility of playing with Kobe Bryant and for Coach Phil Jackson, and the Wizards could use Butler as a respectable replacement for Hughes.
With Hughes jumping to the Cavaliers, the Wizards needed to fill a gaping hole at shooting guard. The 6-foot-7 Butler, 25, can play shooting guard or small forward. He averaged 15.5 points and 5.8 rebounds last season for the Lakers. Butler spent his first two seasons with the Miami Heat before being shipped, along with Brian Grant, Lamar Odom and a No. 1 pick, to Los Angeles for Shaquille O'Neal. He will earn $2.5 million next season and can become a restricted free agent in the summer.
Atkins, who averaged 13.6 points and 4.4 assists in 82 starts last season, has been with three teams the past two seasons but gives the Wizards a veteran backup point guard. He also shot 39 percent on three-pointers last season. Atkins, who turns 31 next month, will earn $4.5 million and will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.
The Wizards still need help in their front court and have scheduled a meeting with free agent forward Donyell Marshall for this weekend.
Brown turned down a four-year deal from the Wizards worth $30 million last October. At the time he rejected the offer, Brown said he was "willing to gamble" on himself.
Brown was suspended for one game in December, following a dispute with Coach Eddie Jordan, and for the final six games of the postseason, after his grousing over playing time eventually led to the protest in which he claimed he had a stomach ailment and skipped a practice and a morning shootaround after playing a season-low four minutes in Game 3 against the Bulls.
The Wizards beat the Bulls in six games -- the franchise's first playoff series win in 23 years -- without Brown, who wouldn't add to the speculation about his suspension. "I agreed with the Wizards that I wouldn't talk about what happened and they agreed that they wouldn't talk about what happened. I'm going to honor that," Brown said. "I will say this, my frustrations, everything that happened, whatever started my disagreement I had with the Wizards, is because I wanted to play basketball."
He did, however, add, that, "I never would've mutually agreed to be suspended. They did it the way they did it and I have to respect that."
Brown had other troubles as well, having been arrested for speeding in 2002, stopped for driving under the influence a year later, and breaking his foot in a pickup game last summer.
Brown never felt he was given a fair shot with the Wizards. He believed that Michael Jordan and Collins rushed him before he was ready. "They throw me into the fire and they have to blame someone. So they bashed me," Brown said last October.
Grunfeld and Eddie Jordan were more accommodating, but Brown was never able to move beyond past tribulations in Washington. An Eastern Conference executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Brown would never have prospered in Washington under that intense pressure.
Brown told those close to him that he feared the Wizards would keep him beyond this season, that the team was afraid to let him become the next power forward to leave the organization and blossom elsewhere -- an impressive list that includes Chris Webber, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace.
"I definitely didn't want to leave on this note. I didn't want to have everybody talking about me in such a negative light because that's not me," Brown said. "Nobody wants to get traded, but we were at that point where it was a no-brainer. We exhausted all the options and both ends decided it was time to part ways. . . .
"Washington made me a man, so I can't say anything negative about Washington. I came here a boy and I'm leaving a man. I can't say anything bad about the Wizards."
In Los Angeles, Brown would play with Bryant, the all-star guard, and for Jackson, the legendary coach who was re-hired last month after he was let go a year before.
"When I talked to Mitch Kupchak and Phil Jackson and all the people in L.A., for them to be so excited and to want me after such negative publicity is real refreshing," Brown said. "I don't want to get into why it didn't work [in Washington], what could've or should've. I'm a Laker now. Once I step on that floor, I'm wearing a Laker uniform."