So Long, Kwame, Thanks for Nothing

Caron Butler
The Wizards acquire Caron Butler from the Lakers in exchange for Kwame Brown. (Noah Graham - Getty Images)
By Michael Wilbon
Saturday, July 16, 2005

The saddest thing of all is that Kwame Brown appears to be as clueless today as the day he arrived. It was okay to be a fool at 18, fresh out of high school; the great majority of us were. But he's 23 now and a full-fledged bust whose tough talk on the way out of here makes it so much easier to wave bye-bye without feeling a bit of remorse. The only thing he got partially right in his parting comments to The Post's Michael Lee the other night was, "This is a resurrection."

Son, a resurrection is only necessary when you're dead. And yes, indeed, your career here was a flatliner. In the best of times, it was in critical condition. And no matter what happens in Los Angeles and stops beyond, The Career of Kwame Brown will always be a bust here. The real optimists around these parts look at Brown and his hulking body and fret that he'll go to the Lakers and become Jermaine O'Neal, really blossom the way Chris Webber did in Sacramento and Rasheed Wallace did in Portland and Detroit.

But there's just as much evidence that suggests Kwame Brown will go to the Lakers and be the slacker he was here, the kid who overslept practices or only halfway practiced when he did show, and always found somebody to blame but himself. Oh yes, he's a bust. That he had the nerve to talk about his "legacy" is beyond laughable. Please, please, please, let the July 22 transaction date get here in a hurry before Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant get a close look at this lame, irresponsible kid and rescind the trade. Legacy? Raise your hand if you see Brown continuing the Lakers legacy of Mikan, Wilt, Kareem and Shaq.

Brown can't get out of here fast enough, and it's been apparent for the longest time. For the first two years, everybody here owed him a great deal of patience, from Michael Jordan and Doug Collins, who should never have taken him, to teammates trying to figure out what to do with the first high school kid ever selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, to the media members charged with the responsibility of covering his career.

But there were two years after that, 164 games, two more training camps, countless practice and film sessions. Look at the progress Gilbert Arenas, also 23, has made in four years. Look at the steps Amare Stoudemire, still 22, has taken. Look at Dwyane Wade, still 23. There are plenty of 23-year-olds in the NBA who come to work like grown men every day. Brown ain't one of 'em. Can't get himself out of bed on time, can't get to practice on time (if at all), can't treat his coach with common respect. The word "bust" doesn't even begin to adequately describe what a stunning disappointment Brown has been. And for half of his four NBA years, Brown has been in his twenties, not his teens.

Yeah, I blame the Wizards, Michael Jordan specifically I suppose, for drafting him (ahead of Pau Gasol, no less) and the club for not providing enough structure for a small-town kid dropped in the big city with no preparation. But beyond that, it's time somebody held this kid responsible. He's a super-size bust and it's predominantly his own fault. Nobody here asked or expected him to be Wilt. Reasonable progress toward competence would have made him palatable, but he wasn't capable even of that. Instead, what he became was a quitter who had to be suspended in the playoffs.

He was too trifling to put in the work with Jordan and Charles Oakley, who literally couldn't get him out of bed to practice or work out in the gym. And after they were gone, he was too sorry and no-account to adopt a serious work ethic even though the team's best player -- Arenas -- is a workaholic and has done everything he can think of to include Brown . . . including go to his house and pick him up.

By the way, if Brown thinks Kobe and Jackson are going to hold his hand and whisper in his ear he's sadly mistaken. Kobe -- ask his teammates -- is as impatient as Jordan, and the closest thing Jackson has had to a project in the NBA is rookie Toni Kukoc, who'd already been an Olympian.

But hey, Kwame is somebody else's problem now. And because he is 7 feet, 270 pounds and still is judged by talent evaluators to have plenty of the dreaded "P-word" (potential), he fetched two pretty good players who should allow the Wizards to do okay this offseason despite losing Larry Hughes.

Caron Butler is big and strong (6-7, 217 pounds) and can score. And Chucky Atkins is more than a throw-in. He's a very good backup point guard and ought to be able to play for a few minutes per game alongside Arenas. Four times in six seasons Atkins has missed three games or fewer. Twice he has played all 82 games, so he's durable. The Wizards got two every-night players in exchange for a bust, so that's the good news. And they've also got a little bit of money to spend on a front-court player.

The bad news is that an already defensively challenged team is worse now than the day the season ended. Hughes wasn't exactly Darrell Walker defensively, but he was the best the Wizards had and the NBA steals leader. Butler simply doesn't play that kind of defense. And the best thing Kwame did, even though we're speaking relatively here, was put his big body on somebody in the post. So, the Wizards have lost a lot of defense. And Donyell Marshall, a hot name when it comes to available front-court players, has become a dead-eye three-point shooter in his veteran years but isn't much on the defensive end either.

The idea after being swept by Miami was to get better, not tread water, and the only way the Wizards are likely to do that is to acquire somebody who actually thinks of himself as a defender. I seem to be the only person in town who likes Steven Hunter, the free agent 7 footer (also 23 years old) who presumably won't be returning to Phoenix. At least he was inclined to mix it up with Tim Duncan in the playoffs, block a shot, grab a rebound, get in somebody's way in limited minutes. Wherever the Wizards turn next, they need to find a defender, preferably two.

In the meantime, there ought to be a sigh of relief coming from Seventh Street NW over dumping Brown and getting two guys who act like NBA players, Butler and Atkins. Brown said he'll only worry about how he plays and how he is judged from this point on. Seems those four years were as worthless to him as they were to the team and to all of us forced to watch his sorry, halfhearted attempt at growing up. Good riddance.

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