Having been on the road for most of the past month; I have returned home just days before the teams from the Association welcome back their players for the start of training camp this Friday. This past summer, has been a season of change for a lot of NBA franchises; including the Boston Celtics, who made it all the way to the seventh game of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, before succumbing to the eventual Champions of last season, the Miami Heat.
Boston had already strengthened their front-court from that Playoff squad, by bringing back big man Chris Wilcox and forward Jeff Green; they also added a player who if he remains healthy could turn out to be the steal of the 2012 NBA Draft, former Ohio State big man Jared Sullinger. The talented player slipped to pick number 21 in the first round, due to reports that he could have back problems. They also drafted center Fab Melo, who will be a project for the team as he is very rough; however he has a huge upside.
The “Boston Globe” reported last week that the Celtics signed another veteran to bolster their bench, as the club reached a deal with veteran big man Darko Milicic, for a one year pact that will pay the Serbian native the veteran’s minimum salary for the upcoming campaign. It is one of those deals known as a low-risk investment, possibly high yield contract for Boston; while expectations are appropriately low, there is always that faint glimmer that Milicic could become that player that many NBA pundits expected was joining the Association in the Summer of 2003.
For those who were not following the Association back in 2003, it has to be pretty perplexing as to why the Detroit Pistons would draft Milicic over Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh among others. The reason was that the Serbian was a seven-foot player who could run the court like a gazelle, play any position in the front-court and could shoot the trey. He also could play with his back to the basket and showed opponents no mercy under the basket, on either end of the floor.Unfortunately for him he was also in the wrong place at the wrong time, as the Pistons selected him with the second pick of the draft, then buried him on the bench for the next three years.
The reports at the time stated that the head coach of the Pistons at the time; Larry Brown, convinced Team President Joe Dumars to draft Darko, but then he never used him. He played in just 34 games in his rookie year, 37 games in his second year with the club and then just 25 games in his third and final year with the club. With limited minutes in the games he did play in; his numbers were terrible; his best scoring season with Detroit was in his second year, as he averaged 1.8 points per game.
He would play more minutes and get better numbers his next two seasons with the Orlando Magic, but his confidence was clearly gone and he was now just a shadow of the player scouts saw in Europe at the age of 17. He would spend three years with the Memphis Grizzlies, his first year as the primary starter, but Marc Gasol soon supplanted him. He then signed a Free Agent contract with the New York Knicks, where he found himself mired on the bench again.
Milicic told reporters at the time, that he had been mislead by every team he ever played for starting with the Pistons. He said “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.”
Things seemed to turn around for him soon after as he was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves where he found someone who believed in him in the club’s head coach Kurt 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 during the 2010-2011 season and averaged 8.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per contest in 69 games. He would lose the man who believed in him at the end of that campaign, as the T-Wolves fired Rambis and brought in Rick Adelman as the new bench boss. Under Adelman he played in just 29 of the team’s 48 games last season; starting 23 of them and has averaged 4.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.
Minnesota released him at the conclusion of last season; using their amnesty clause and saved themselves almost $5 million in the process; by releasing him they only had to pay him $7 million instead of the $11.8 million he would have made had he stayed the next two seasons. He will now be playing for one of the best coaches in the NBA in Doc Rivers and playing with two future Hall Of Fame members in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
There will not be high expectations or heavy pressure starting Friday for the nine-year veteran starting on Friday, but it could be the type of atmosphere that allows Darko to regain his confidence. At the age of 27-years-old, it is doubtful that Milicic will ever scratch the surface of fulfilling the expectations that were once foisted upon him, but he could still certainly become a more than serviceable player in the Association.