Not long ago, Kwame Brown's young career took a wrong turn. Just 19 games into what the Wizards hoped would be a breakthrough season, Brown lost his starting power forward position to Christian Laettner.
The move was viewed as confirmation of what Michael Jordan and then-Wizards coach Doug Collins saw last season: a lack of the passion, drive and effort necessary to improve.
But perhaps the demotion lighted a fire under the 6-foot-11 Brown, who in 2001 became the first high school player selected with the first pick of the draft.
He responded with his three best games of the season, averaging 17.6 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 67 percent from the floor. General manager Ernie Grunfeld said the Wizards had not lost faith in Brown, who would be a junior if he had gone to college.
"I think people tend to forget that he's still only 21 years old," said Grunfeld, in his first season with Washington.
"He's shown that he has all the physical tools necessary to be a very successful player at our level. I think we have to have patience."
Brown is physically gifted. He is strong, has quick feet and the potential for an imposing game. But he needs a lot of work on his fundamentals, and many scouts wonder if his small hands hinder his play. He sometimes has trouble catching passes and misses quite a few dunks.
But Brown's biggest detriment may be his attitude.
With Jordan and Collins riding him last season, Brown lost confidence - and his starting job after 16 games. But his questionable work ethic might have kept him from regaining it. This season, the Wizards practically begged him to participate in the summer league. The club compromised, asking him to play in three games, then decide whether to continue. After his third game, Brown left.
Still, with coach Eddie Jordan giving him a fresh start, Brown was expected to make strides this season. Whether that happens quickly, the Wizards, who were burned by trading big men Chris Webber and Ben Wallace prematurely, are going to hold on to Brown for a while.
"If you look at the other high school players who were drafted that year - Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, DeSagana Diop - they're all in about the same area as far as development is concerned," Grunfeld said.
NO DOZE: Former Florida A&M center Jerome James of Tampa was reprimanded and possibly fined recently when, during a Sonics film session, he closed his eyes and temporarily lost consciousness. It normally would be called falling asleep, but James isn't going along with that.
"It's not like I was sleeping," he said. "I just dozed off. What are you going to do?"
THE BOOK ON LEBRON: There are two books about rookie LeBron James on the market, King James: Believe the Hype and Rise of a Star.
Said TNT color analyst Steve Kerr of the Cavaliers guard:
"What do you write about when you're 18 - the kindergarten years were great. ... What's Chapter 4, seventh grade?"
ROOKIE LIFE: For those with no concept of how difficult the life of an NBA rookie is, consider the plight of Hawks first-round pick Boris Diaw. France's Diaw and fellow rookie Travis Hansen are in charge of providing doughnuts before morning practices. But Diaw angers teammates because he cannot find a Krispy Kreme and settles for Dunkin' Donuts.
"They're not so happy because I don't find Krispy Kreme," Diaw said. "They want Krispy Kreme.
"I like the Dunkin' Donuts. What's wrong with them?"
AROUND THE RIM: Hawks forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim or center Theo Ratliff can be had on the cheap by any team willing to absorb the salary hit ($28-million over two years for Abdur-Rahim, about $20-million over two for Ratliff). ... Look for the Magic to shop power forward Juwan Howard now that Dec. 15 has passed. After signing with the Magic, Howard had to stay with the team until that date before he could be traded. Orlando's season has been miserable, and the Howard-Drew Gooden combo has not worked. The team will attempt to move one of them. ... With guard Jason Williams out, Grizzlies coach Hubie Brown has used former Gator Mike Miller as a playmaker, and Miller is averaging 6.7 assists in Williams' absence. "He's just a player," Brown says. "He's not a one, he's not a two, he's not a three. He's just a player." ... Nets forward Richard Jefferson's back went out last weekend as he jumped up quickly from the bench after he heard coach Byron Scott call his name.
- Information from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Sporting News and Rocky Mountain News was used in this report.