Kwame Brown story

There was some confusion between the Daily News and its sister papers with today’s Kwame Brown story. Here’s the version that should have run, with quotes from general manager Mitch Kupchak. Sorry for the mix-up.

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–No matter how low Kwame Brown got last season, Lakers coach Phil Jackson refused to introduce any more negativity into Browns basketball career.

When Brown was struggling with the triangle offense – – struggling sometimes just to catch the ball in the post – – Jackson tried to break down the game to its basics. All he asked of Brown was to run the floor, rebound and play defense.

Now the Lakers are hoping that Brown can put together the pieces and pick up where he left off last season, when he averaged 12.4 points and 8.6 rebounds in the final 18 games with Chris Mihm lost to an ankle injury.

During a long interview Friday, Brown talked about the importance of gaining his teammates trust and believing in himself. The Lakers open training camp next week, with the hope that Brown at last will live up to his potential.

The difference for Brown from his first season with the Lakers to his second could be as simple as having confidence with the ball down low instead of quickly unloading it to Kobe Bryant or Lamar Odom.

“I think now that when I get the ball, Brown said, “Ive earned the trust in them and in myself to go ahead and go to work.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said a change of scenery undoubtedly benefited Brown, who came to the Lakers last summer in a sign-and-trade from Washington. Even now, though, Brown is far from a fully developed player.

“He has to just be in the gym and continue to work on his game, Kupchak said. “He has all the physical gifts that any player would die to have. But its been that way since high school. Everybody knows that.

“He made great strides the last 1 1-2 months last season, but he has to build on that and continue that this season.

Brown walked around all summer with a card in his wallet bearing the numbers 15 and 10. Jackson gave it to him at the teams exit meetings in May, trying to motivate Brown with a goal of points and rebounds he could average this season.

Asked if this could be a breakthrough year for him, Brown did not hesitate in answering yes. He is only 24, younger even than Smush Parker, yet will be entering his sixth NBA season.

“I dont like saying that because every year Ive said that, Ive gotten hurt, Brown said. “After my third year, I had a great finish with the Wizards, then I broke my foot that summer.

“I just want to come in healthy. Thats it. If I come in healthy with a positive attitude, then Im good.

Brown spent the off-season strengthening his legs, to avoid a repeat of the hamstring injury that cost him 10 games last season. He worked on the jump hooks and short jumpers that he hopes will become staples of his game.

When it comes to his free-throw shooting, Brown also might be a changed man. He shot a career-worst 54.5 percent last season, and admitted being wary of going to the line. But Brown was able to laugh Friday at the memory of his unfortunate airballs.

“Its not that I improved as a foul shooter; I improved mentally, Brown said. “Most of the time, I didnt even want to get fouled because I didnt want to go to the line.

“At the end of the year, all they would do is foul me, so Im like, `OK, Ive got to go to the line, so you might as well stand in there and just make it.

There is always an issue, however, for Brown. This season, it might be the NBAs new ball. His hands have long been a question mark, and Brown said he is no fan of the synthetic ball that will be used for the first time.

The ball is easier to grip than the old leather model when dry, Brown said, but is heavier and more slippery when wet. If the new ball hits the rim, he added, it is most likely not going to result in a friendly roll.

Jackson also has to figure out how best to use Brown and Mihm, both of whom are centers. Mihm was starting and having a career season before he was injured; Brown did not sound inclined to play a power forward spot on the wing.

“Anytime youve got a 270-pound guy on the wing, I dont think thats his best advantage, Brown said. “Id definitely like to be down low, challenging guys and putting the pressure on people.

The most important step Brown took last season might have come in making sure his teammates knew they could count on him. That was a change from Washington, where Brown clashed with Gilbert Arenas and was suspended in the 2005 playoffs.

“I want to be able to come out on the court, Brown said, “and know I can look the other four guys in the eye and say, `You know what to expect. Im going to go hard.’

“If Im having a bad game, Im going to rebound it. If Im having a bad rebounding game, Im going to play defense. Im going to give you something, and Im going to give it all Ive got.’

A year after his arrival, Brown has settled in to life as a Laker. He said he better understands the triangle and its rhythm of cutters. He has learned to slow down and avoid rushing to make a move before he even has the ball.

He has gotten used to playing in front of the Hollywood stars at Staples Center. He wants this season to be about defense, especially in stopping the pick-and-roll. He has thought back too many times to the shot Tim Thomas hit in Game 6 of the playoffs.

Much of the credit for Browns turnaround goes to Jackson, who could have buried the former No. 1 overall pick last season but didnt.

“It would have been easy for him to say, `Weve got this guy, he aint doing (anything), and that would have been it, Brown said. “Thats the true meaning of a coach, when he can lift a player up.