NBA Free Agency: Explaining the Timberwolves' Darko Milicic Situation

Timber WolfAnalyst IIJuly 2, 2010

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 1:  Darko Milicic #31 of the Orlando Magic holds the ball against the Chicago Bulls on November 1, 2006 at TD Waterhouse Centre in Orlando, Florida. The Magic won 109-94. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

ESPN has confirmed that the Minnesota Timberwolves have signed Darko Milicic to a four year deal, worth 20 million dollars.

This Serbian center was taken in the 2003 NBA Draft after LeBron James, but before Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh. If anyone follows the NBA, you probably would associate the name Darko with "bust".

No doubt, he's a bust of epic proportions, largely enhanced because of his counterparts. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh are all marquee players in the NBA, and Darko was expected to be one in that class as he was drafted.

Let's break this down.

Darko Milicic was drafted at the age of 18, and while he played in Serbia, he was inconsistent. Of course, the younger you are, the more inconsistent you are. He was taken by the Detroit Pistons, with whom he received virtually no playing time in two years. It's funny how the media value championship rings so much, when Darko got one as a rookie. Haha funny, right?

Milicic ended up playing with the Detroit Pistons, and shortly after that, the Orlando Magic and Memphis Grizzlies.

Stats with the Orlando Magic: 7.6 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.1 APG, 2.1 BPG in 20 MPG.

Stats with the Memphis Grizzlies: 7.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 0.8 APG, 1.6 BPG in 23 MPG

Milicic was 20 and 22 during these stretches in the NBA. While these are his best years, you notice that his minutes weren't good and were inconsistent.

Milicic has been living in the shadow of LeBron James and the others in his draft class alike. He has been mocked, ridiculed, and it's ultimately taken a huge chunk out of his confidence. We don't see the Darko that would posterize you anymore , even though he hasn't been the type to regualate the paint with his dunks. He isn't the same anymore.

I feel, as well as anyone that has followed the NBA, that Milicic hasn't been given a chance in which he was embraced by a front office fully, or by a coaching staff. Darko has gotten that in Minnesota. He also, mind you, hasn't played badly whatsoever.

In fact, while being completely out of shape, out of commission for two months (also three seasons without 20+ minutes), his confidence, will, drive, and hunger to succeed has been visible in some flashes at times. Please consider:

  •    13 points, nine rebounds, five assists, and three blocks against the Los Angeles Lakers.
  •     16 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals, and one block against the Golden State Warriors
  •     15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, one steal, and four blocks against the Sacramento Kings
  •     16 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block against the Los Angeles Lakers
  •     Eight points, eight rebounds, two assists, and one block (debut game, 19 minutes, +35 plus/minus rating, second best in Wolves history) against the Oklahoma City Thunder
  •     Two rebounds, and four blocks (10 minutes) against the Atlanta Hawks
  •    10 points, one rebound, and three blocks (12 minutes), including a very convincing one on Dwyane Wade.

Yes, while his numbers could be better, and I'm convinced that the Wolves certainly could have done better with this deal, it's still fairly reasonable. After all, he did play pretty well and did a ton of things off the stat sheet for anyone that actually watched him play.

Here's a video showing that he has a lot of talent, especially on the low block and passing the ball. He makes some very impressive passes, and he looks so much bigger than his opponents, and it looks like his low post moves are very effective.

Now, let's get into something interesting. People say that Darko is 7'0". Further from the truth, he's a legit seven footer, but he's around 7'2'', and maybe even taller.

Check this video out, he's standing right next to Dikembe Mutombo, someone that's on record as 7'2'', and he appears to be the exact same height. He was still a teenager when this occurred, though.

Now, in my very own opinion, I'm not saying that Milicic will be an All-Star, but I do think he will show people that's he's legit next season with the Wolves. Now, allow me to counteract some arguments presented by naysayers around the web.

  • The Timberwolves already have established bigs! Very true, it's just that they don't have an established center or shot blocker. Al Jefferson is 6'9'', and Kevin Love is 6'8'', and are both power forwards. Al Jefferson is arguably on the trading block.
  • Darko Milicic is a bust! Well, of course. But I don't hear anyone complaining anymore about that Randy Foye/Brandon Roy swap, or the Rashad McCants pick. Give him a chance in a Wolves uniform and see what he's got.
  • Too much money for unproven talent: Well, his fourth year is partially guaranteed, so ultimately, the deal is around 16 million guaranteed for the four years. I don't think that's too much at all. Considering the fact that the Wolves didn't commit a max deal to the likes of Rudy Gay and Joe Johnson, I like Milicic's deal. Zaza Pachulia gets 19 million over four years, Andre Biedrins gets 62 million over six years (yikes), so think about that.
  • He didn't help the Wolves win any games: This could be the strongest argument. I have a counter-argument. Out of the 24 games the Wolves played with him, they played 18 playoff teams. The other teams? New Orleans Hornets, Houston Rockets, Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors, and the Detroit Pistons. These playoff teams were playing their best brand of basketball toward the end of the season, and it was hard for the Wolves to win under those circumstances. It is not an excuse, but a valid point I should say.

Now this is what I hate about Wolves fans. We are going through this free agency period, and all people do is say "no one wants to come to Minnesota," yet when someone does want to come, all they do is say no.

Milicic's agent, Marc Cornstein, said his client was "extremely excited this is in place."

"Darko wanted to be there," Cornstein said. "He felt like this is home from the moment he got there. Kurt Rambis has been fantastic for him. He's resurrected his career. He has genuine belief in Darko as a player and a person."

"If you had told me in the middle of February, we'd be at this stage July 1st, well, it's really remarkable," Cornstein said. "I've said for a long time that the team that showed belief in Darko will be rewarded enormously. They stepped up and proved it with action."

"What happened in Serbia was a reaffirmation how important he was to them," Cornstein said. "To have the GM and head coach travel to his home, which is not exactly around the corner from Minneapolis, and share a meal,  that spoke volumes."

"He'll show up in great shape," Cornstein said. "Now he has something to prove, which he is anxious to do. Now we have this behind us. They wanted him back and he wanted to be here. We both realized this is something we should do sooner rather than later. They were fair and generous and we tried to be fair and generous."

Well, there you go.

I think that for someone who wants to be here that badly who obviously has a good skill set and size with the full front office (David Kahn, Kurt Rambis, and Tony Ronzone) believing in him, that's all he needs to show what he truly can do. After all, he hasn't had that before.

So before you call the deal bad, wait till he plays. He wants to be in Minnesota, and that's more you can say for all the other free agents. It shouldn't be a negative against the guy. The Wolves are already the picking franchise in the league for ridicule, so don't make it worse before he even suits up.

If the guy averages say a double-double with two blocks, then there shouldn't be anything to say.



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