After years of appearing; if not being the most clueless franchise in the Association, the Minnesota Timberwolves are finally starting to turn things around during the 2011-2012 campaign. One season after they ended up with the worst record in the NBA, the club is 23-25 as of Thursday and might have had a shot of making the Playoffs if they had not lost rookie point guard Ricky Rubio to a season ending injury earlier in the year. Rubio had become a starter for the team in his first season in the Association, he had already become a fan favorite in Minnesota and was getting praise from opposing coaches when his season came to an end.
All-Star forward Kevin Love had a breakthrough campaign last year as he scored 20.2 points while grabbing 15.2 rebounds per game. He has raised his scoring average dramatically this year while not dropping too far in his cleaning of the glass duties; as he is averaging 25.7 points and 13.7 rebounds through 44 games. If the T-Wolves were in the Playoff hunt; K-Love would be getting some serious consideration for NBA MVP.
The man who truly deserves the credit for transforming the Timberwolves from the “Bad News Bears Of Basketball” into a legitimate franchise in the Association is bench boss Rick Adelman; who has come to Minnesota and changed the mindset of the organization. Last year the club went into contests expecting to lose; where as in this year they truly believe they can play with anybody. It was showing positive results as the squad was above the .500 mark before Rubio went down for the year. Nearly everybody who was with the club last season and is still with the franchise in this campaign are more optimistic and far happier than they were a year ago at this time.
There is at least one player on the squad who has not prospered under Adelman’s tutelage and seems to be the odd man out in Minnesota; a repeat of a scenario that keeps occurring throughout his career in the Association. The “Star Tribune” has reported that Adelman told reporters that the reason that he has kept the team’s former starting center Darko Milicic inactive for the last two games; even with current starter Nikola Pekovic not with team due to injury was that the coach had lost confidence in the big man. Adelman started rookie forward Derrick Williams as Minnesota fell to the San Antonio Spurs 116-100 on Wednesday night.
The T-Wolves head coach told members of the media “He hasn’t done anything to really give you a lot of faith that he’s going to go out and do the job. He’s gotten himself out of shape. He hasn’t been as driven as you’d like so when a situation like this happens, it’s time for someone to have their opportunity and get back in there.”
Milicic had become the personal reclamation project of former T-Wolves head coach Kurt Rambis who started praising the big man when he was acquired in a trade with the New York Knicks in the 2010-2011 campaign. The player who the Detroit Pistons chose with the second pick of the 2003 NBA Draft was ready to go play in Europe when he was playing for the Knicks, as he told reporters he had been lied to repeatedly throughout his time in the NBA.
Milicic said that he had been mislead by every team he ever played for starting with the Pistons. He told reporters “Yes, they did. “They lie to everybody. It’s the NBA. The NBA, all around the league, same (stuff). ‘Your chance is going to come.’ All that kind of (stuff). (Forget) that! I’ve got enough of that kind of stuff, so I decided I’m going to Europe. I don’t know why they took me with the second pick if you’re not going to play me. I never understood that, you know. I was happy being the second pick and all that kind of stuff, but I never knew what I got myself into. I never knew I was coming here not to play. Nobody was telling me anything. I’ve got to be real. There is no team in the league that is going to give me the chance that I’m looking for. My only chance is back in Europe. I’m going to do that. I want to be happy. I want to play.”
He found someone who believed in him in Rambis who inserted him into the starting lineup when he came to the team and convinced him to stay in the Association and sign on for a stint with Minnesota. He was the starter last season and averaged 8.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per contest in 69 games. Under Adelman he has played in just 29 of the team’s 48 games this season; starting 23 of them and has averaged 4.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.
Although the Yugoslavian native is in his ninth season in the Association, he is still just 26 years old; which gives him plenty of years to still turn his career around. The question becomes does he have a future in the NBA, or is he destined to return to Europe to play? With teams like the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat desperate for help at the pivot position; I never once came across his name mentioned before the NBA trade deadline took effect on March 15. The Celtics are practically salivating over Ryan Hollins who was released by the Cleveland Cavaliers; but Darko draws zero interest.
Milicic could most likely get a lucrative package if he decides to return to Europe to play in the Euro-Leagues. He very well could find that his style of basketball is much more suitable to European hoops and could become a big star. They say that the strong give up and move on; while the weak give up and stay. Perhaps at the end of his current contract Milicic should move on.