Six years ago in February, Kedrick Brown took the Staples Center floor as a starter for the Celtics against the Lakers. He guarded Kobe Bryant tightly and stuck a trey in his face at the other end of the floor in the C's win.
This February, Brown was back on the Staples Center floor, this time as a starter for the Anaheim Arsenal of the NBA Development League. He had an uninspiring 13 points (5-of-15 from the floor) in an afternoon loss to the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
By the end of the game, Bryant was in the Lakers' dressing room preparing to play Portland that night.
The contrasts were almost eerie. After two full seasons out of the game, Brown, a former first-round draft pick of the Celtics, is trying to play his way back into the NBA. How he regressed from Point A to Point B is quite a tale. Actually two of them.
While there are a number of sources who will say that issues with alcohol precipitated his departure from the league, the 27-year-old swingman, wanting to set the record straight, swears that wasn't what sent him away and caused his weight to balloon. But before Brown was traded to the Celts in the Ricky Davis deal, the Cavaliers were reportedly warned that he may have a problem.
Back in LA, Brown shook his head.
``It wasn't a problem at all,'' he said. ``It was more just rumors. So I just put that behind me. It never was a problem.
``I heard multiple rumors about the weight gain and that I had an alcohol problem. It was none of that. During the summer I did gain weight, but who doesn't if they're not playing? I just put that behind me. All that is (expletive). I don't know who started it. I don't know where it came from. But it never was a problem.''
Out on the floor, Brown shows flashes of his old self, picking off a pass and gliding in for a layup. But the explosiveness is largely absent, and he seems too casual for a guy who is trying to impress his way back into the bigs. In the ever changing D-League, however, he is a rock.
``Kedrick, he's been our pro,'' Arsenal coach Reggie Geary said. ``He comes in and he does the additional work. You know, I knew a little bit of his past, but when we called around last summer and found out that his weight was down, we knew he was serious about trying to get back into the league. Since he's been with us, he's been fantastic. He's the guy we count on night in and night out. We feel he deserves a shot in summer league to get back in.
``We have a lot of guys here who've been through a lot of changes, but I use Kedrick as an example every day. Here's a guy who has a setback, but here he is being a professional.''
As for the alleged partying past, Geary said, ``We see no glimpses of it.''
Glimpses of talent - some of them spectacular - are all Celtics fans got to see before Brown moved down the line to Cleveland and Philadelphia. Soon after that game against the Lakers, he was out of the rotation. The Celts kept him and dealt Joe Johnson away, but the acquisitions of Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk parked Brown on the bench. A severe ankle sprain the next year kept him in reserve.
``It's easy to see now that we made a mistake putting Joe Johnson into that trade,'' said then-Celtics general manager Chris Wallace, now the Memphis GM. ``But at the time it wasn't such a simple call. Joe wasn't playing and his confidence was shot. Kedrick was playing, and Obie (then-coach Jim O'Brien) liked him. It looked like Kedrick's role was going to expand. But with the trade he went from starting to not playing.
``The next year he was looking really good in camp, but he came down in the bench area in a game at Mohegan Sun and really hurt his ankle badly. When he came back, his 3-ball wasn't falling (3-for-39), and Obie went away from him.
``You know, as a guy coming out of junior college, I don't know that he was ever extremely confident. I don't think he had a great confidence in himself to fall back on.''
Said an exec on one of Brown's other NBA teams: ``I just don't think he had the confidence in himself that you need. He was down on himself when things weren't going well, but even when he was playing, I'm not sure he believed in himself.''
Again Brown shook his head.
``I just think the Celtics expected more out of me at the time, and some players take longer than others,'' he said. ``I'm just one of those players. I was on the bench and then on the injured list. I just felt like the long-forgotten son. So I just put all that behind me now. When you're in the NBA, you learn that it's all political anyway. If you have a name, you have a name. If not, then you're out.
``By the end (with Philadelphia), I was just mentally and physically out of it. I didn't have a backbone. I didn't have nobody leading me and telling me what to do. So I just took a little time off, and over the last two years I think I have grown mentally. I'm just out there having fun.
``Back then it was more the frustration that comes when you know you're better than people you're playing behind, and it's just because of their name and the money they're making. I just took a little time off. Two years really did pass by fast. I didn't want to take that much time off, but I just was at home.''
Now he's in the D-League hoping for a chance to get into an NBA camp. Interest has been tepid, but he will no doubt get a look.
``I would consider it a success that he took the necessary steps to try to get his life in order,'' said Wallace, who drafted Brown No. 11 overall after a tip from a coaching friend. ``He's shed the excess weight and he's back playing. I think that says good things about Kedrick.''
As Brown finished speaking in the Staples Center hallway, the Trail Blazers filed in and out of the NBA visitors dressing room that he once used.
``That was a different time,'' he said. ``I'm just enjoying myself now and trying to get back.''