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So, Kwame Brown happened

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By Kevin Sawyer

With the acquisition of the 26-year-old-first-draft-pick-cum-journeyman-center, Joe Dumars has… Well, what has he done exactly? I’ve been vocally critical of Kwame Brown in the past, but now that he’s our 26yoFDPCJC (how’s that for a nickname?), let’s check the teeth on this deal.

Let’s get this out of the way. Kwame Brown hasn’t done particularly well at the NBA level. He isn’t a good rebounder, which is baffling given his physical attributes. Unfortunately, he is also most productive off the glass on the offensive end. The upshot is that he isn’t very productive on the offensive end, period.

Worse, he doesn’t seem to recognize that his bread and butter consists of putbacks and dunks. As such, he is rather prolifically unproductive. He showed promise in this area two seasons ago posting an excellent true shooting percentage of 57%, then reverted to form last season, settling for fifteen foot jump-shots that he doesn’t make with any particular frequency.

Brown’s lackadaisical attitude is well documented, though a reasonable argument can be made that he has been handled poorly by coaches and management at various levels. After all, his third season was his best, an atypical trajectory for a 19 year old draft pick. Further, his progress has been hampered by frequent injuries, which have a way of making a hard-working player appear disinterested.

To his credit, Brown is regarded as an above average defender, which takes some of the sting away off of his offensive deficiencies. While not an excellent shot blocker, Brown keeps his man in front of him without posting an excessive foul rate. Given that Joe D. has kept this type of player on the back burner since taking over as GM, perhaps we should not be too surprised at this pickup.

So what can the Pistons expect from Kwame? The word "serviceable" gets thrown around a lot in the NBA, particularly as it relates to players who are unlikely to start. Frankly, serviceable doesn’t win championships. That said, there are reasons to think we might have a solid rotation player here.

Statistically speaking, ages 26-28 are the sweet spot for big men. Combine this with Arnie Kander’s penchant for reviving ailing big men, and it seems probable that we will see the best Kwame Brown has to offer while he is in a Piston uniform. With consistent playing time and earthbound expectations, can he at least approach his output from the 03-04 or 06-07 seasons? If Kwame can simply hold court on the offensive end, then he will be a bargain.

And, speaking of bargains, this off-season has been devoid of them. In spite of Dumars’ insistence that he was ready to deal, the asking price for second tier stars and role players has been staggering. Short of taking pennies on the dollar in trade (Harrington for Billups, anyone?) or throwing $30 million at James Posey, of all people, the options have been limited.

All things considered, then, this is a great business move. While $4 million per year might be a bit spendy for a center with a well-deserved reputation as a stiff, snagging a two year deal that expires in 2010 is a major coup in and of itself. Teams will be scrambling to get under the cap come the 2010 trade deadline, and a $4 million expiring contract will be ideal for facilitating three way trades.

There remains even the very slim possibility that Kwame Brown could actually fulfill his initial promise. Given that this will be his last shot at a big payday, he’ll have every incentive to put in the effort. This at least partly answers the tricky question "what can he give us that Theo Ratliff does not?"

That, of course, is a legitimate question, and there are legitimate concerns here as well. Dumars’ insistence on signing backup centers invariably clogs the rotation. It is hard to reconcile this acquisition with a mandate to find more minutes for Amir Johnson. Further, Kwame has a high enough profile to become a side show if things go badly, particularly if they begin well. If he starts out on fire, should we find him more playing time? Move another piece? You see the potential for drama. Drama sucks.

But let’s give Joe Dumars some credit for not hitting the panic button. He didn’t fall for the lowball offers from the Golden States and Atlanta Hawks’ of the world. He wasn’t going to part with a piece of the core for the Ron Artest wild card. Kwame Brown may not be the piece that gets us back to the Promised Land, but he unlikely to represent a step backward.

This is the textbook definition of tweaking the roster. This signing, paired with the publicized meeting between Dumars and Billups, seems to indicate that Joe D. is done looking for suitors for a would-be blockbuster. I had thought that Dumars would eventually put the "closed" sign on the storefront, and this certainly does that.

He’s moving forward, and if teams want to make a deal, they can call us. And it had better not be about Al Harrington.