Working out of the top 10 of Thursday's NBA draft, the Detroit Pistons selected a promising teenaged center with a wingspan far greater than his 6-10 height, someone with some definite fundamental and possibly motivational issues, but a talent good enough to make All-Star teams and anchor his franchise defensively for years to come. So, Andre Drummond? Andre Drummond, 2012 Pistons pick? Please don't be Darko Milicic.
Detroit, their Pistons, Pistons players, Pistons coaches and Pistons front office personnel? They're hoping for just as much. Actually, the coaches and front office types, led by GM Joe Dumars, did more than hope. They worked, taking in five times the information (by their calculations) than the Dumars-led Pistons front office did back in 2003, when they rang the bell for Darko with the second overall pick. Just one back of LeBron James, and ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Ahead of Kirk Hinrich and Kyle Korver and Kendrick Perkins, even. Never again, Dumars said in his post-draft interviews, as thankfully picked up by MLive.com's Brendan Savage. Never again:
"I could give a dissertation on that," Dumars said shortly after selecting Drummond. "After I drafted Darko, from that point on, the amount of background we do on every single player that you see us draft is ridiculous. We do as much or more background than any other team in the NBA because of that.
"The background on (Milicic) was about 20 percent of what we do now. I look back on it now and realize you didn't know half of the stuff you needed to know."
Some background has to be put in place, because the blame for Darko bowing out can be shared by many.
Detroit did jump the gun, with Milicic. Joe Dumars wasn't even in New Jersey when the Pistons were awarded the second pick. No, Memphis Grizzlies GM Jerry West represented his team, a team that was allowed to keep its 2003 pick if it landed in the top overall spot. The Vancouver Grizzlies had traded away the conditional rights to that selection all the way back in the summer of 1997 — when NBA executive Stu Jackson was running the team — to Detroit for Otis Thorpe in a terribly misguided attempt to add an angry veteran past his prime to a young and rebuilding team years away from needing to field someone in their 30s.
In a moment West had to deal the dual indignities of both losing out on LeBron James, by one grab of a lottery ball, but also losing out on his lottery pick altogether. And that Grizzlies team, even before hiring coach Hubie Brown a few months into the 2002-03 season, earned that pick.
The problem here is that Dumars told anyone that would listen — and this was in May, mind you — that the Pistons would be using the top overall pick on Darko. Didn't look seriously into trading down, didn't run another month's worth of background checks. Didn't exactly go in unfamiliar about the guy, but could have done more.
The problem here is that so, so many other teams would have done the same. Even if Wade and Anthony were just a few months removed from shining in their trips to the Final Four.
Milicic was that highly regarded, so to pass it off as the Pistons acting alone or that "Tayshaun Prince played well out of nowhere for Detroit in the 2003 playoffs, so they took stupid Darko" is wrong. Yes, Prince played well for Rick Carlisle in the postseason, watching as his minutes jumped up from 10 to 25 per game, but Dumars was taking Darko anyway.
And he was dumping Carlisle, and going with Larry Brown. Another person to blame, along with all the other factors mentioned above on top of the media hype machine that turned Darko into The Next Big Thing even after The Next Dirk Nowitzki (Denver forward Nikoloz Tskitishvili) bombed miserably the year before.
Brown destroyed Darko's confidence in his rookie year. It's one thing not to play a guy that should be a freshman in college (if that, because Darko had just turned 18 a week before the draft), it's another thing to go completely to the other side with a kid learning to be a pro on the fly.
Brown treated him like a non-entity, which only Larry Brown can do because not only were the Pistons on their way to an NBA title, but Larry Brown doesn't give a rat's tail about you or your developing potential star or your franchise because he's only thinking about his next job. Even in his first year on the job.
Then, while playing garbage time in the final game of the 2004 NBA Finals, Darko Milicic broke his left (shooting) hand. Took away his summer, his summer league, and his chance at growing. He should be able to grow and develop on a team with Ben and Rasheed Wallace, everyone said, but those guys were a million miles away from Milicic while he sat and wondered when the cast would come off.
Which makes it come back to Darko. He was petulant. He never refined his play on either side of the ball. He gave up on games, clearly, be they in garbage time or in the first minute of the rare first-half appearance. You'd watch him on League Pass, in his Next Big Chance at Making it Great (if only per-minute), and he sulk around the court. Hardly the sort of thing you want to see from someone given an opportunity to work with the good silverware at the adult table.
So, sure, Dumars could have talked to more people. Could have found the Serbian version of the sixth-grade teacher of Drummond's he says he talked to. Could have waited until June to give the esteemed David Aldridge the chance to say, "trust me, he's taking Darko" on national TV. Could have stuck with Rick Carlisle, who probably could have done some amazing stuff once the Pistons added Rasheed Wallace.
He's not alone, though, in the blame.
And let's all hope that Darko is alone and off to the side, in this instance, should we attempt to compare him to Andre Drummond in nine years time. Because we're all rooting for Detroit, and especially Andre Drummond, here.