LAS VEGAS — It's not at all uncommon to watch a game at the NBA Summer League and wonder, "What's he doing here?"
And not just when Flavor Flav decides to mosey on down to Cox Pavilion, clock bling and all.
Once upon a time (i.e., a year ago), Brown was a steady role player in the NBA, with a pair of rings from his time with the Los Angeles Lakers. Now, the 28-year-old Michigan State product is slapping hands with and shouting instructions to rookies, sophomores and assorted basketball hangers-on.
"I thought coming to Summer League would give me a chance to get back in the groove a little bit of actually playing basketball," Brown told Bleacher Report after scoring 10 points in the Knicks' 80-73 victory over the D-League's finest Thursday.
Indeed, Brown has been largely out of practice in the last nine months. The Phoenix Suns sent him to the Washington Wizards in the deal that landed Marcin Gortat in D.C. last October. The Wizards waived him a few days after.
From there, Brown could only wait—for the two 10-day contracts he snagged from the San Antonio Spurs, for the Spurs to then decline to sign him for the rest of the season and for the Knicks to bring him on for the rest of the campaign in late March after a couple of quick pacts came and went.
"It’s never easy to deal with something like that, especially since I love to play basketball," Brown said of his experience as an NBA vagabond. "To basically have it taken away from me was tough to deal with, but, you know, I’m blessed. I’ve got a great family. I’ve got great people around me that tell me to keep pushing, and I’m self-motivated also. It ain’t an easy thing to deal with, you know, but I try to come out and give my hardest every time I step on the court."
Brown has done far more than that for the Knicks, though. He's been a sage veteran voice for the likes of Tim Hardaway Jr., Shane Larkin, Jeremy Tyler and second-round rookies Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, teaching them how to run the triangle offense that he once mastered under Phil Jackson in L.A.
Of course, the Zen Master has had a heavy hand in that effort as well. "He’s definitely been coming to our practices and watching and basically, you know, seeing what guys work well in the triangle and telling us and giving us pointers and tips on stuff as well," Brown said of the Knicks' new team president, who has observed all of New York's games in Sin City alongside an orange-and-blue contingent.
Ultimately, though, the task of coordinating the Knicks' triple-post offense has fallen to head coach Derek Fisher. Jackson snapped up the five-time champion and quick-shot legend shortly after he retired from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
So far, the move has worked out just fine for the Knicks. Carmelo Anthony is back in the fold on a five-year, $124 million deal, and New York is a perfect 4-0 in the summer league, for whatever that's worth.
"He’s been great," Brown added, talking about Fisher. "I think he’s been poised thus far. He’s always been a great leader, you know what I mean? He’s always been great at explaining stuff and he’s a point guard, so that almost comes natural for him."
Brown should know. He and Fisher were teammates during Brown's two-plus seasons as a Laker. Three years after their last game together, Brown finds himself answering to Fisher in an entirely different capacity.
"You know what? It’s strange, man, but it’s almost like a player-coach-type situation," Brown said. "I go from playing with him to actually playing for him, you know. But a lot of this stuff I know already, and the stuff that he’s trying to teach the guys I can reiterate."
It's only fitting that they would wind up together again. Their bond is a close one. They even appeared together on Guy Fieri's Minute to Win It back in March 2011.
They'll need more than a minute to win it all—even in the wide-open Eastern Conference—assuming Brown makes the Knicks' regular-season roster. His $1.3 million salary for 2014-15 isn't currently guaranteed.
"It ain’t a game show," said Brown. "We’re out here playing basketball."
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