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Decade later, ex-No. 1 pick Kwame Brown producing

It's been almost 10 years since then-Wizards boss Michael Jordan made Kwame Brown the No. 1 overall draft pick. For Brown, that's meant a decade of ridicule.

From the immediate barbs he took from Jordan as a rookie to being booed every time he touched the ball in his return to Washington last month, Brown has been criticized not only for his own shortcomings, but for Jordan's as an executive, too.

Those jokes were recycled in August when Jordan, now owner of the Bobcats, signed off on bringing Brown to Charlotte in what was seen as an odd and uncomfortable reunion.

The laughs aren't so loud these days. While no star, an older and wiser Brown has become a starter and key contributor. Playing for the veteran minimum of $1.3 million, he's also one of the most cost-effective players in the NBA.

The 6-foot-11 Brown is averaging 5.9 points and 6.6 rebounds. But he's had games of 12 points and 14 rebounds and 15 points and 16 rebounds in the past two weeks.

"He's getting better, I tell you," Bobcats interim coach Paul Silas said Monday. "He's shooting that little jump shot. He can make layups now. Free-throw shooting, he's getting a lot better. His defense and his rebounding are always going to be there, but those other parts of the game that weren't, he's really producing now."

The 28-year-old Brown will probably always be known as the gaffe for Jordan, who declined to be interviewed for this story. But Brown has found a way to stick around in the NBA for 10 seasons by refusing to dwell on his troubles after becoming the first player to skip college and be the first pick in the draft.

"You can't see what's in front of you by looking back," Brown said. "I want you to walk through that door turned around. You're going to bust your head. I don't do that.

"You let others look back. You let others talk about what you accomplished and what you didn't accomplish. You just keep moving forward."

Brown is guarded around reporters, and Silas isn't surprised. Not after the abuse he took from all angles, including Jordan after he returned as a player, when Brown was shooting 39 percent from the field as an overwhelmed teenager.

"At that particular time, people did not give him what he needed, the confidence that he needed to perform well," Silas said. "To me, that's the whole key, especially for a young kid. At 18 years old coming into the league you've got to tell him he can. That gives him a chance. I think that was part of the problem."

Still, Silas didn't know what to make of his center after replacing the fired Larry Brown on Dec. 22. He didn't play him in his first three games, and it wasn't until injuries to DeSagana Diop and Nazr Mohammed that Silas put him in the rotation.

Now Mohammed is back but Brown is still starting.

"His confidence level is so much better. He's freer, he's talking, he's laughing, he's joking," Silas said. "With guys like him that don't say very much, I look at, do they start talking more and laughing and having a good time? That's what he's doing right now and I think it's helping him."

After four mostly disappointing seasons in Washington, Brown played for the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons with modest results as he fought through several injuries. He averaged a career-low 3.3 points and 3.7 rebounds in just 48 games in Detroit last season.

As the summer dragged on, there were few options until the Bobcats called with a one-year offer for the league minimum. Brown insists he didn't hesitate to rejoin Jordan's team.

"I just looked at it as an opportunity to play, no matter Michael or whomever," Brown said.

Brown missed the entire preseason and the first 10 games after severely spraining his left ankle in a September pickup game. The ankle still isn't completely right — it was noticeably swollen after Monday's practice — and Brown is still carrying about 20 extra pounds on his 280-pound frame.

Still, Brown has brought not only his signature rebounding and defense, but also added scoring. Even his knuckleball free-throws are starting to fall.

"No one had ever told him if you're open, shoot the basketball," Silas said. "I did that and he got confidence."

Brown is still limited offensively, but the Bobcats will be leaning on him as they begin a six-game, nine-day road trip Tuesday in Sacramento. Charlotte is without big man Tyrus Thomas (knee) until March and Diop is lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles' tendon.

That means more minutes for Brown, a rarity for much of his career.

"Not too many people wanted to give him the confidence that he could perform and perform well," Silas said. "I think now he's coming to the fact that, 'I'm out there. I can do what I have to do to be successful and people want me to be successful.'

"I think that's the whole key to his mental attitude."