|Lofty expectations, and an ignorant view on his own abilities|
led to the career downfall of Darko...or, he sucks.
The news earlier last week that the Boston Celtics were signing Darko Milicic to a one year guaranteed deal garnered the proper amount of news attention. It slipped under the radar, regarded as one of those ho-hum signings that a team made late in the offseason to add some depth after all the note-worthy free agents had signed. Boston Celtics fans are the new group now who gets to take a look at the human epitomization at what could've been and what so sensically and profoundly wasn't. This isn't one of those "he should've been so much better but he wasn't, let's reminisce" articles, because he shouldn't have been. Darko Milicic never developed a clear role in NBA lore other than "that other guy", and now, at least based on his depth chart standing and contract status, his role's been fully embraced.
His value fell victim to a multitude of factors. One, being truly awful front office work being done five years prior to that 2003 NBA Draft. The Memphis Grizzlies traded a conditional number one pick to Detroit for Otis Thorpe in 1998, and that pick turned out to be top-one protected in 2003, and naturally...they missed out on the 1st pick in that draft and their draft choice automatically went to the Detroit Pistons. Ignoring the fact that the Grizzlies missed out on LeBron, they also didn't have a chance at Carmelo, Wade or Bosh. And instead that chance went to Larry Brown and the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons were on the verge of competing for a championship, one they'd ultimately win that season, and were unwilling to take a chance on enigmatic players such as Carmelo Anthony. Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade weren't top pick level players at the time, as crazy as that sounds, yet Milicic was. Thanks to guys such as Chad Ford, the relative ignorance of how good Milicic's game actually was led to a sort of mythology as to the type of player he was. And he was tagged with labels such as "toughness", "attack-mode" and even garnered the apparent declaration that he had the potential to "carry the Pistons". These are exact quotes from Chad Ford's 2003 NBA Draft roundup, which is a fascinating reread in retrospect. Ultimately he went to the Pistons, and was immersed in the toughest of NBA culture. A hardnosed coach in Larry Brown, blue-collar veterans such as Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Richard Hamilton, and a team that playfully embraced him but you could never really tell if it was genuine or whether it was just a product of that awkward Serbian kid with the frosted tips honing his craft in the Motor City, and the hilarity that came with that.
He only lasted two and a half seasons in Detroit before being dealt to the Orlando Magic, pre-Dwight Howard's prime Orlando, so rough times for a player still yet to realize his "vast potential". He played one and a half years in Orlando, having his best season of his career to that point in 2007, tallying totals of 8 points per game, 5.5 rebounds and about 2 blocks. He also played a decent postseason, although one that would eventually be his last up until now, and it looked like Darko's stock was finally back on the rise, after 4 years of questions. He signed as a free agent with the Memphis Grizzlies for a then, and still now-insane 3 year $21 million contract and lulled through another one and a half year stint before reaching his low point...or one of them. Being dealt to the New York Knicks in a salary dump for Quentin Richardson. He only lasted 8 games in New York before his 3 year contract signed in 2007 expired, and he was a free agent.
The question stood then, should Darko get out now? He'd been playing with a loaded gun for the last seven years now, and yet he still remained an attractive option to teams apparently. I say apparently, because the team that ended up giving him another chance was the 2010 Minnesota Timberwolves, headed by David Kahn, who may or may not be insane. The jury is still out, although that team looks pretty solid know so I digress. Regardless, Milicic was asked to be that frontcourt partner to rising star Kevin Love, and as if he needed anymore added pressure Kahn took to NBATV for a still-hilarious interview with Chris Webber during Summer League to compare Darko's career at that point to Chris Webber's own, going as far as to call Darko "Manna from Heaven"...whatever the hell that means.
Darko signed a 4 year $16 million contract with Minnesota in the summer of 2010, and now, in the summer of 2012 he is a member of the Boston Celtics. The Timberwolves amnestied him, wiping his contract off their salary cap and their roster, yet still owing him that final $8 million or so for the next two years, that's how much they wanted to get rid of him. He never really got acclimated and his minutes were sacrificed for the surprising player development of Nikola Pekovic, conversely kicking Milicic to the curb. Now he sits behind a few big man in the Celtics' rotation, free of any laudy contract, any babbling front office man heaping immense pressure on him, free of the things that submarined a once promising career. I'm not saying he's going to reach any of that potential, I'm just saying he made the right decision this time in going to the Boston Celtics' school of big men, and I have no doubt that that group of guys will genuinely embrace a fella such as Milicic. Although this article is kind of worrisome in terms of expecting anything of value with Darko from this point on.
Maybe in retrospect, the best spot for Darko was Miami though, what good is a harrowing reminder of lost potential than in that lost potential filling a need on a super team comprised of your initial draft class, and all those players you were once favored over.