Second-year forward Kwame Brown said yesterday that he believes Coach Doug Collins has lost confidence in him and that he is being blamed for the Washington Wizards' struggles to make the playoffs.
Brown, the first high school player selected No. 1 in the NBA draft, in 2001, is averaging 7.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 22 minutes for the Wizards (31-33), who are a half-game behind Milwaukee for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards next play Friday night on the road against the Detroit Pistons.
"I know I could help us get to the playoffs," said Brown, who failed to score or grab a rebound and played only eight minutes in Tuesday's crucial victory over the Orlando Magic. "I just think that I'm getting limited opportunities to do a lot of things that I'm able to do. I guess the coach has lost confidence in me. Nobody can do anything in eight or nine minutes a night. If I don't come in and do something immediately, I'm coming out. I feel like I'm to blame for everything."
Collins declined to comment yesterday for this story, but he said several weeks ago that he would use only the players he has confidence in down the stretch. He often cites forwards Charles Oakley and Bryon Russell as examples of players who maximize their limited playing time. Collins also has said that he "loves" Brown and that "nobody wants to see that kid succeed more than me."
Brown said yesterday he respects Collins, but he and his coach don't have a good relationship. He also pointed out that Collins is in the unenviable position of trying to get the soon-to-be-retired Michael Jordan, the man who hired him, to the playoffs while trying to groom young players.
"Everybody knows he's in a tough position," Brown said. "I couldn't be Doug Collins. That's why I don't fault him. It's not fair for me to argue or contest what he does when I know he's in a tough spot."
Collins took Brown out of the starting lineup after 16 games and replaced him with Christian Laettner. Brown admits he has never approached any of the coaches to ask what he needed to do to get his job back. The coaching staff felt that indicated a lack of ambition; Brown said he simply thought that Collins lost faith in him.
"I felt like nothing I did was going to get my job back," Brown said. "There would be games where Christian -- and I'm not knocking him because I love him to death and he's always supported me -- would make some of the same mistakes I made but he was allowed to stay in. I make those mistakes and I'm out.
"I just knew that if I came to them to get my job back, they would say prove it in practice. So I practiced hard and there would be days in practice where I would do well and not see the court that much in games. I felt they just wanted to go with the older guys."
Brown said Collins needs to back off, like he did in the early part of the season, when Brown was playing his best basketball. Collins admitted then that he micromanaged Brown last season and he needed to ease back and let him grow at his own pace. Now that the playoff race has "everybody more on edge," Brown said Collins's handling of him has reverted to last season's stringent ways.
"If this is not micromanaging, I need to look up the [word] again," Brown said. "M.J. told me he was tough on players like Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant. I don't understand the logic if it's not working. He admitted he micromanaged me, so why still do it?"
Brown, who turned 21 on Monday, said that he has learned not to dwell on his relationship with Collins.
"I'm at the point now where, mentally, I don't let things get to me anymore," Brown said. "Things might make me mad at the moment, like me not being in the game or not playing. I'm not going to get bent out of shape anymore. Last year I'd get mad all day. I'm not going to let it linger."
Teammate Jerry Stackhouse said this season has been another step in Brown's NBA education. Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tracy McGrady -- other high schoolers who went straight to the NBA -- all made noticeable gains in their third seasons.
"I'm going to bust my butt this summer to get stronger, faster and improve my game," Brown said. "I plan on getting out of the gate strong again."
Brown thinks that with Jordan retiring, he will get another shot to compete for more playing time and be more of the team's focus. Brown said he isn't looking too far ahead because he hopes he can play a role in this season's playoff push.
"I can still help," he said.
Brown admits that even though he has been criticized in the media for his inconsistency and not living up to the lofty expectations of a No. 1 pick, Jordan's presence has helped deflect some of the attention.
"But I'd at least like to be playing so I could be under the microscope on the floor," Brown said. "Now I'm kind of under the microscope on the bench. It could be worse, but it could be better."
Brown said he thinks he and Collins can work together and that he hasn't given much thought as to whether he would like to play elsewhere next season. His name probably will surface in trade talks this summer, as it did around February's trade deadline. Could the grass be greener?
"I'm not going to be concerned about that," he said.