Since 2003, new Boston Celtics big man Darko Milicic has carved out a reputation as perhaps the most notorious bust in NBA history. That wasn't entirely earned — Darko hasn't been worthy of the second-overall pick in the 2003 draft when Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony were also available, but he also hasn't been as bad as such luminaries as Nikoloz Tskitishvili. Whether because of his initial prospects or some bizarre bet on the part of NBA general managers, Darko survives.
The Celtics signed Milicic for just the veteran minimum, but they still harbor hopes that he can be a real contributor, especially given their need for big men beyond Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass (and rookie Jared Sullinger, if he turns out to be a player). Those guys have spent their careers as power forwards, for the most part, and Darko figures to be a center. Never mind that he has stunk for years, or that his mere presence makes fans take a team less seriously.
"I don't know (what to expect)," he said. "I like a lot that he has size. What we want Darko to do is fit a role for us, and not push all of these expectations on him that he's had all of his career. His first concern should be our team, instead of trying to establish himself. It's the second pick in the draft thing. I think that hurt him over his career. We'll find out. I'll tell you if that's true in January. I hope it's true."
If the Celtics do indeed strike gold here, then Milicic's age will be a bonus. He played his first NBA game at 18, and is still a rather tender 27. The Celtics will be his sixth NBA team.
"Absolutely, he has shown signs but he hasn't been consistent," president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said of whether Milicic can still improve. "Time will tell. . . . It's a great opportunity for him. He didn't have a good year last year in Minnesota and he played well the year before (in Memphis). At this time last year he was unavailable. He was a guy you couldn't get. He's 27 years old and he's healthy."
It is very nice to think of Darko as a continual work in progress, a player who could follow through on his considerable talent if only he found the right situation. On the other hand, Darko is 27 years old and has played for five teams in nine seasons. If he were going to become that late bloomer, it likely would have happened by now. It's not as if he hasn't had the chance.
Worst yet, Darko looks complacent. Just listen to Zach Harper, a Minnesota Timberwolves fan and all-around smart guy, writing for HoopSpeak after the Celtics and Darko agreed to a deal:
The problem is not only does he not know how to string together even semi-competent plays on an NBA court, but he also doesn't care whether or not he gets it done. He's going to cash the paycheck, stuff the money under his mattress (no seriously, he doesn't trust banks), and have the same blank stare of a lobotomized person watching sink fixtures rust over. [...]
He's accepted his fate. He's a tall guy that gets to cash enormous checks for being tall. It comes with zero stipulations other than "remain tall and you get to be paid seven figures." He's fine with this. [...]
Yes, he'll be with Kevin Garnett this time but he's been with Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace before. He's played under Rick Adelman, Lionel Hollins, Larry Brown, Flip Saunders, and Mike D'Antoni. It's not like Doc Rivers will be the first good coach to ever throw him into a scheme. There is no realization for him.
That lack of desire to improve is ultimately what keeps Darko from becoming the player the Celtics hope he can be. We know what to expect, because we've seen it many times before.
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