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News » Will Milicic ever be an answer? 2008-09-17

Will Milicic ever be an answer? 2008-09-17

Will Milicic ever be an answer? 2008-09-17
The trade murmurs have quieted the past couple of weeks, even though the always exuberant New York media continues to dredge it up now and then just to keep the NBA chatter flowing.

Oh sure, there is some logic to this proposed deal that would have the Knicks send talented, high-priced (and even higher maintenance) Zach Randolph to the Memphis Grizzlies for 7-footer Darko Milicic and guard Marko Jaric.

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Depending on who you talk to, the holdup has been the Grizzlies demanding the Knicks pay a large portion of the $48 million Randolph will be owed over the next three years. Evidently, the two sides have agreed on the players. Randolph's erratic behavior is one issue for the Knicks, but his ill fit for the anticipated fast-paced offense new coach Mike D'Antoni will use counts against him, too.

Jaric will fit well into the system.

The question is Darko.

The question is always Darko.

The follow-up question is how long will we be discussing Darko?

Ever since his name came up as a potential top-five pick as a 17-year-old from Serbia-Montenegro in the spectacular 2003 draft, there has been inexorable fascination with him -- highlighted by his frustration and lack of success.

It was understandable back then, considering he was 7-foot, 245 and scouts said he had a great touch and superior agility. Although an unknown quantity because he had played so little, it was a time when the interest in international players was at peak level, so the personnel staffs and the media glommed on to Darko.

His agent Mark Cornstein played it to the hilt with the media, and made Milicic available at every turn.

It was stunning, but his name was right there with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in speculation going into the draft. But when it came right down to it, everybody was stunned when Joe Dumars and the Detroit Pistons took Milicic right after James ... ahead of Anthony, Bosh and Wade.

Honestly, Pistons coach (at the time) Larry Brown was none-too-thrilled either after spending time with Milicic. Brown wanted him to use his agility to play like Bill Russell, and Milicic had no idea who this Bill Russell guy was. He was more interested in mimicking Toni Kukoc's perimeter game,

And yes, it went downhill from there.

Sure, Dumars made a good case with such an athletic young big man. With such a rare opportunity for his championship-contending team to have the second pick in the draft from a previous trade on a stroke of luck from the lottery, Dumars figured it was worth the gamble. He found Anthony, Bosh and Wade a little redundant to the rest of his roster at the time.

But Milicic didn't respond well at all. He was too sensitive for the incessant harping of Brown (as have been a lot of players), and it ultimately crushed his confidence on the Pistons. Dumars stood strong for 2-1/2 years before he finally conceded and unloaded him to Orlando for Kelvin Cato and a future first-round pick. The good news for the Pistons is that pick got them guard Rodney Stuckey -- a steal with the 15th overall pick in 2007.

Milicic had a revival of sorts for the Magic. He started blocking shots, sometimes at a high-rate -- presumably now understanding who that "Russell guy" was. He'd rebound well from time to time, despite retaining that urge to handle the ball on the perimeter and shoot jumpers. He averaged 8.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and almost 1.8 blocks in 23.9 minutes a game in 2006-07.

It was encouraging as he approached his 21st birthday, but not enough for the Magic to want to keep him as a qualified restricted free agent. Instead, management opted to renounce his contract so they could offer a maximum deal to high-scoring unrestricted free agent Rashard Lewis. Cornstein and Milicic were surprised and angry, with no desire to return at that point for whatever mid-level deal the Magic could throw at them.

Again, Cornstein obviously handled it well because he managed to get the cash-strapped Grizzlies to guarantee a three-year, $21 million deal for his now buffed up 275-pound client. The presumption by the Grizzlies, as was the case with the Pistons and Magic, was that this was the natural progression of the athletic 7-footer.

The problem was in the 64 starts out of the 70 games for the woebegone Grizzlies and rookie coach Marc Iavaroni, his game wasn't progressing. He played just 23.8 minutes a game despite starting and had thumb and Achilles problems. And his numbers were hardly anything to get excited about. His shooting was bad (.438 from the field, .554 from the free-throw line) and he wound up averaging 7.2 points, a career-high 6.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.

That leads us to now, and the Knicks interest, however mild or actual it may be. They would be his fourth team in four years at the ripe age of 23. Of course, his size and agility are intriguing for D'Antoni. He runs well and has good hands. Maybe that style of play can push him to another level.

Or ... maybe it won't. Entering his sixth season, to use the 21st century sports vernacular, maybe he is what he is.

Which begs one last question: Just how much interest would there have been in 2003 if this intriguing 17-year-old had been Bob Smith from a high school in Wichita as opposed to Darko Milicic from Serbia-Montenegro?

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: September 17, 2008


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