As the draft class of 2003 prepares to spin the free-agent wheel of fortune this summer,
"When I look back now, this isn't how my career was supposed to look," said Milicic, who's averaged 5.4 points and four rebounds over nearly seven seasons in the NBA. "Being a defensive guy, all of this time not playing, that's not how I saw my career, that's not how I enjoy playing. That's why I've decided to take a shot and go back to Europe. I'm 24, I'm still young. So I can still be happy overseas."
Few could have seen this coming when the Pistons selected the 7-foot center with the second overall pick in the 2003 draft -- just behind
"He certainly looked like a guy who would get taken in the top 10," said
Milicic wowed Pistons president
"Everybody said this is how it goes in the NBA," Milicic said. "You've got to watch first, you've got to learn. It's all bull. I didn't learn anything by watching. There is no practice in the world even close to game situations. They're trying to keep you happy, trying to keep you thinking your time is around the corner, but it's a lie. You can't keep everybody happy. But I was in the flow and listened to them. And now it's too late."
Milicic is quick to blame his present on a past he feels hurt his game and psyche. "What changed me was
"That took my mind off basketball. I got frustrated and wondered, If they weren't going to put me in the game, why was I [in Detroit]? So I started thinking of stupid stuff and began not caring about the game, not trying to get better."
Milicic followed his time in Detroit with a productive season and a half in Orlando (7.8 points, 5.1 boards, 1.8 blocks in 23.1 minutes), a stint that helped him earn a three-year, $21 million deal from Memphis in July 2007. Milicic averaged 7.2 points and a career-high 6.1 rebounds as a full-time starter in 2007-08. He played one more season with the Grizzlies before being traded last June to New York, where coach
But Timberwolves coach
"The last thing we'll do here is try to pressure him or ask him to achieve certain objectives," GM
"There's a real fluidity in his game. He really moves like a forward. He can shoot up to three-point range and can post up with a nice little jump hook. And he's an excellent passer. He's just got a lot of skill."
True, games in which he blocks four shots in 10 minutes, or grabs nine boards in 25 minutes, suggest he isn't the punch line he has commonly become. But Milicic isn't playing against a simple scouting report; he's playing against a draft position he likely will never meet.
"Certainly he should not have been the No. 2 pick in the draft," Ekstrand said. "If he had been the 20th pick in the draft, or even the 10th, people wouldn't be so hard on him. But they put that label on you when you are picked, and everything that could go wrong did. In Darko's case, every one of those [other] first five players turned into superb players right away.
"I don't think it's fair to call somebody a bust if he never plays. There are not that many human beings with his athleticism and skills walking around. He is a legit big man. Maybe if he was given plenty of minutes, it would be determined that he really is a big off the bench and maybe that's it. Maybe he doesn't have enough to be starting center in the NBA, but maybe he does. Still, after all these years, we don't know."
• "I'm not speaking [for] Chris Bosh. I'm just saying, the individual that wants to move on ... there are different reasons why a guy wouldn't want to play [in Toronto]."
• "When I was growing up, I said I wanted to be in the NBA. I never said I wanted to go to the NBA and play for L.A. or New York or D.C. or a big market. I just wanted to play in this league. It's a privilege. I can't be picky about who I want to go to just because it's a bigger city. I want to have an opportunity to win, and I think we have that here."
• "My offense is just terrible right now. I don't know if I even want to shoot the ball next game or for a couple games. I don't even know if I want to shoot the ball because things are just not going my way. I'm struggling really bad right now."
• "We're not fond of that kind of statement."
• "He just isn't a high-level, volume guy that carries you. I think he would agree to that."
• "I'm a man, just like they a man. If a man is talking to me this close to my face, I'm going to say something back. He has to respect me just like I respect him. I just [said], 'Get up out of my face.' He was this close in my face -- I can feel his lips touching my cheek -- I wasn't bragging saying, 'Ah, we winning.' It was 'Back up.' "