Lorenzo Brown reflects on journey to the NBA’s 76ers

Lorenzo Brown's roller coaster ride to the NBA arrived in Philadelphia on Nov. 20 (Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images)
Lorenzo Brown’s roller coaster ride to the NBA arrived in Philadelphia on Nov. 20 (Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images)

There is a direct flight from Raleigh to Philadelphia, but Lorenzo Brown had to make a few stops along the way.

During his journey to the NBA, the former N.C. State point guard has signed three professional contracts with three teams in less than three months.

Brown’s bid to make the NBA began as an invitee to team workouts in the months leading up to June 27’s NBA draft. While most rookie prospects attend between one and 10 workouts, Brown, who left N.C. State after his junior year, worked out for 17 NBA franchises from Boston to Portland.

“Non-stop,” Brown said earlier this month of his summer schedule. “I was flying back and forth almost every day. It was crazy.”

Brown finally landed with the Philadelphia 76ers, where he made his NBA debut Nov. 20, but that doesn’t mean he has made the NBA — there’s no guarantee he’ll have a spot for the rest of the season.

This is all part of the process for players on the fringe of the draft. Brown, who started for three years with the Wolfpack, was projected as a late first or early second rounder. ESPN’s Jay Bilas listed Brown, 6-5, 186, as the 23rd best player in the draft.

Watching the draft at Atlanta’s Infusion Bistro, owned by former Wolfpack forward J.J. Hickson, Brown saw Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. and UNC’s Reggie Bullock selected back-to-back in the first round with the 24th and 25th picks respectively.

Brown of Roswell, Ga., wasn’t picked until near the end of the second round – 52nd by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

He says his late selection continues to serve as motivation nearly six months later.

“It definitely makes me work a little bit harder,” Brown said.

No guarantees

Brown, 23, turned in an impressive Summer League performance for the Timberwolves in July, averaging 8.3 points, 2.2 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game. According to NBA.com, Brown’s play was tops in a Timberwolves rookie class that included UCLA standout Shabazz Muhammad and 2013 NCAA National Champion Gorgui Dieng of Louisville.

As first round picks, Muhammad and Dieng were signed to guaranteed contracts in July. Brown had to wait until the end of September to finalize his deal: a non-guaranteed league minimum contract of $490,180.

In his preseason debut for Minnesota on Oct. 9, Brown played 17 minutes. The following night, he scored six points in 13 minutes. In the team’s next preseason game, he didn’t leave the bench.

“It was the coaching staff’s decision,” he said. “I definitely didn’t get hurt. It was just more of the team preparing a lineup for the regular season.”

Brown continued practicing with the Timberwolves until he was waived on Oct. 25, just five days before Minnesota’s season opener. It was the first time, Brown said, he had failed to make a basketball team.

“It’s a business,” Brown said. “But they did a pretty good job with helping me out with my game and becoming a better point guard so I felt blessed.”

A.J. Price, a former teammate in Minnesota and now a close friend, can relate. Price was also drafted 52nd, in 2009.

“You just got to keep working hard, showing that you want it bad,” Price said.

Despite being cut, Brown insists he never doubted he would return to the NBA.

“I have a lot of faith in everything that I do. If you put the time into it and grind as hard as you can there’s always something good that’s going to happen for you,” he said. “I feel like I had paid my dues and worked hard to get where I was.”

Springfield surprise

Brown’s agent, Andy Miller, helped negotiate his transfer from the Iowa Energy, Minnesota’s NBA Development League affiliate, to the Springfield Armor, the Brooklyn Nets’ D-League team. Brown’s second professional contract, with the Armor, was designed so his rights would be available to any NBA team willing to sign him.

“Andy felt that was a better position for me,” Brown said. “To make it back to the league.”

Before reporting to Springfield, Mass., on Nov. 1, Brown accepted an invitation to another NBA workout – with the 76ers. The team also invited former Portland Trail Blazers’ guard Elliot Williams.

“That’s how it all happened,” he said. “I had my hopes up during the practice and just kept grinding it out in case something came up.”

Before getting the call from Philadelphia on Nov. 19, Brown spent nearly three weeks in Springfield practicing and scrimmaging at the Armor’s official training facility: The YMCA of Greater Springfield.

The experience, as described by Brown, was comparable to a year he spent at Hargrave Military Academy before enrolling at N.C. State.

“It was eye-opening. We were practicing in a YMCA that felt like it was over 100 years old, and we were sharing lockers with people who use the gym there,” he laughed. “By no means a college or NBA lifestyle. It was a hard-knock life out there.”

Working to stay

On the night of Nov. 19, Brown received a call from Miller, telling him again he was moving.

This time, Brown was going back to the NBA.

“It was breathtaking, because it was finally happening.”

Philadelphia had cut former first overall pick Kwame Brown and reserve guard Darius Morris to make room for Brown and Williams. Brown wasted no time traveling to his new city.

“They asked me if I wanted to leave for Philly that night or the morning of the 20th. Told them ‘right now!’ ”

Brown drove three hours from Springfield to Philadelphia and arrived by 1 a.m. The next morning, he signed his third professional contract and scored five points against Toronto in an NBA debut that lasted 58 seconds.

“I took two shots. And luckily they went in,” Brown said.

Since then, Brown has played in 12 of Philadelphia’s previous 15 games through Saturday as he fights for a spot in the 76ers’ rotation. Brown was averaging 3.2 points and 1.8 assists per game. Last Saturday, he scored a season-high eight points in 24 minutes and added five assists against Portland.

Brown is one of 14 players on Philadelphia’s active roster under 26. The team’s youth, says Brown, has helped the 76ers bond. Brown says it’s the closest thing to a college team he could have asked for.

“We’re still learning and it’s a long season,” he said. “We’re all on the same page right now and it’s a great situation because we’re working together to get better.”

Brown lives in a hotel, awaiting a guaranteed contract before investing in a residence of his own. If he sticks on the 76ers’ roster through Jan. 10, he’ll be guaranteed the entirety of his $426,725 contract this season – and the peace of mind to look for a place to live outside of the Homewood Suites.

“It has been nice, but nothing five-star,” Brown says of his hotel-turned-home. “I don’t have to clean anything so that’s a burden off my back.”

In the meantime, he goes to work each day, waiting, wondering and living his lifelong dream, hoping for a more secure NBA future.

“It’s always going to be surreal because it’s the NBA. You dream about this,” he said. “But at the same time it’s a job, so you got to come out with your game face on. A lot of people don’t understand how hard it is to be in this league, and I’m giving it my all to show that I belong.”

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