Season of rejuvenation (cont.)
Posted: Friday January 18, 2008 11:23AM; Updated: Friday January 18, 2008 5:22PM
"My mom always said I sat on a pile of manure and smelled roses," Jackson says. "I'm the kind of guy that sees the optimistic end of life, so this is an opportunity for Kwame [Brown] and other guys to step up."
Brown, 25, is easily the Lakers' biggest enigma. At 6-foot-11, 270 pounds, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2001 NBA draft has all the physical tools to be a dominating force. But he is still stuck in first gear, and the jury's still out on whether the coaching staff will ever be able to push him into second and beyond.
The logical solution would be to pair him up with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has helped mold Bynum into a solid NBA starter three years removed from playing in high school.
"That's difficult because Kwame is a peculiar case," Abdul-Jabbar says. "I would leave that to Phil to explain how peculiar Kwame is. He's not a bad guy; it's just very hard to get through to him and I haven't done it yet."
So what's so peculiar about Brown?
"I call him a knucklehead once in a while," Jackson says. "Kwame has to be led to water and then forced to drink. [Assistant coach] Brian [Shaw] and I have always said there are some peculiarities about his game. For example, when he drives left, Kwame will finish right-handed, but he'll always pause or fake and wait for the defensive player to catch up to him. We can't get it through his head to just take that move because you're going to beat the guy anyway. You might get fouled, but Kwame does not enjoy foul situations and making a team pay because his free throw percentage is below 50 percent."
During the Lakers' loss to the Suns, Brown was booed loudly by the home crowd every time he touched the ball after continuing to miss dunks and layups and mishandle simple post passes. While Jackson kept Brown in the game, hoping he'd work through his problems, he never did. Brown quickly left the locker room after the game without talking to the media.
"I thought it was terrible," Bryant said of the fans' response to Brown's seven-turnover game. "I don't feel they should react like that. If they want to do that, they should stay home. He's going to be our center for two months and if anything we should support him. We can't tear him down. ... I told him I got his back; I don't care how many times they boo him. He's going to be fine. He's going play well the next game and they're going to chant his name the next game.
"Kwame's sensitive. You boo him and it's going to affect him."
While rumors have circulated that the Lakers may be interested in signing Chris Webber, Jackson seemed uninterested in adding the 14-year veteran.
"I think Chris is an accomplished offensive player," Jackson says. "My concern as always has been defense and rebounding, and that's a part of the game that has passed Chris by."
At the moment, Jackson seems content to ride out this recent injury wave, with the losses of Bynum, Radmanovic (ankle) and center Chris Mihm (ankle) leaving the Lakers little depth on the front line.
"If we can survive this period of time, we have a good chance of maintaining what we want to do," Jackson says. "That's to finish in the top four in the Western Conference, which would get us home-court advantage in the first round. I think that's a realistic goal for this team."
Despite their injury problems, the Lakers through Thursday were only a half game behind the Suns for the West's best record. They play three of their next five games at home before a brutal nine-game road trip through the first two weeks of February that Jackson believes will define the team's season. Jeannie Buss, however, is only worried at the moment about the Lakers' fortunes during the next two weeks.
"This is funny," Buss says as she turns and grins at Jackson. "It might not be funny to Phil, but in the eight years that I've known him, he's only had to coach the All-Star team once. And what the NBA dictates is that the coach of the team that's in first place [in its conference after games on Feb. 3] has to coach the All-Star team. So, honey, we might be going to New Orleans."
"We'll see," says Jackson, flashing that smile again. "I can do something about that."
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