Darko: Potential Ain’t Enough

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - February 22, 2006
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The Darko Milicic experience is going from Motown to O-Town. No word yet on how Lou Pearlman will profit from this.

For as much as fans may, or may not, have hoped the former second pick in the draft would someday prove to be a dominant player, the Pistons didn’t have much choice. Darko was frustrated with his lack of playing time and his agent had asked for a trade. Let us not forget that Ben Wallace is a free agent this year and Chauncey Billups the next. And you know those guys are going to get paid.

At still only 20 years of age, it’s too early to call Milicic a bust and seemingly the only tarnish on Joe Dumars’ record. It will be interesting to see what he can do in Orlando. Teamed with Dwight Howard he could yet prove to be a very good player. But to do that he is going to have to show a lot more than he did in Detroit.

Observers say the 7-footer from Serbia and Montenegro had made progress in practice over the years. Unfortunately, he has yet to prove anything in a meaningful game. His preseason performance not withstanding.

At first buried on the bench under former coach Larry Brown’s I-hate-the-young mandate, he has not faired much better under the more open Flip Saunders. During his few minutes on the court, Milicic seemed to just go through the motions. Instead of taking those opportunities to play lights out in the hope of impressing someone, he jogged up and down the court while playing soft in the post and looking lost in the action. Surprising considering Milicic had to go through daily battles with two of the league’s best big men in Ben and Rasheed Wallace plus veteran Antonio McDyess. You’d think he would pick up a thing or two especially with Rasheed helping him out. A tutorial that did wonders for a young Jermaine O’Neal.

In moving Milicic and backup point guard Carlos Arroyo the Pistons got more than a 2007 protected draft pick and back up center Kelvin Cato. What they got was cap room. Fifteen million dollars worth at season’s end.

Cato, who is out for the year with a foot injury, will likely never play for Detroit. He could be used to help land another backup point guard or he may just be released. For the time being, Lindsey Hunter, 35, will take over for Arroyo, a possible upgrade so long as he is sufficiently recovered from a pre-season ankle surgery.

Three years ago the Detroit Pistons fell in love with a 17-year-old big man who could hit from outside and possessed some nice post moves. And why not? The entire league was fascinated by European big men that seemed to possess more well rounded games than their American counterparts. Sure he was raw, but the Pistons figured they had time. Along the way things changed.

Darko didn’t develop as fast as hoped, and Rasheed Wallace and McDyess came aboard in surprisingly deft moves by Dumars. After those additions where was Milicic going to get his minutes? It wasn’t going to be given to him and he didn’t seem determined to take them.

Like Mehmet Okur a year ago, whom the Pistons let go to Utah to free the money needed to resign Rasheed Wallace, Milicic could very well blossom in a new setting. He has the skills now he just needs to prove he has the desire.

Darko Milicic is not dirty laundry. No one in the Motor City felt a need to wash their hands of a bad problem. He became a victim of his own work ethic on a team that demands sacrifice and had the misfortune to get stuck behind perennial all-stars.

Is Milicic a bust? Hall of Fame coach John Thompson said as much during a recent telecast. But will the pick tarnish Dumars’ name? Not hardly. Since coming on board as president of basketball operations for the 2000-2001 season he has torn down a bad club and made it into a champion. Along the way he was named executive of the year, rescued Ben Wallace and Chauncey Billups from the scrap heap, swapped Jerry Stackhouse for Richard Hamilton and traded Zeljko Rebraca, Bob Sura, and two first-round picks for Rasheed Wallace.

Joe’s good and there are no hard feelings. Just so long as Orlando doesn’t turn into an Eastern Conference powerhouse with Milicic leading the way. That would be a problem.

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