According to Serbian newspaper Novosti.rs and now A. Sherrod Blakely at CSNNE, former Piston, Magic, Grizzly, Knick, and Timberwolf Darko Milicic is headed back to the United States and rumored to be negotiating a deal with the Boston Celtics. He turned down a 3-year, $6 million deal to play with Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez of Real Madrid and there's speculation that he's signing a deal with Danny Ainge for either the vet minimum or the bi-annual exception ($1.957 million).
Danny hasn't just hit a home run in free agency this summer. He's hit for the cycle. If he wants to get a little greedy and try and get on with a bunt single in the ninth, I'm all for it. Unfortunately, Milicic's reputation precedes himself and he's always going to be considered a bust. He was the second pick in the 2003 Draft behind Lebron and before Anthony, Bosh, and Wade and has migrated between five NBA teams in nine years. It's a pick I'm sure Joe Dumars wants a mulligan for and if David Kahn could do it all over again, he'd probably take back his comparison of Darko to "manna from heaven."
In Darko's defense, Milicic hasn't exactly been in the best circumstances to succeed. At 17, he was drafted by a team that later that season, would win an NBA championship. There was little opportunity playing behind Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, and Mehmet Okur. He was then traded to Orlando and became a back up to Dwight Howard and since then, bounced around the league. In his career as a journeyman, he's had that "bust" tag wrapped around him like an albatross around his neck. That's not easy to overcome.
In Boston, he won't have to live up to any potential. He won't be known as the dunce of one of the best draft classes in NBA history. There won't be a demand for him to meet the expectations of a wealthy contract. He's coming in hat in hand and willing to work. We know who Darko Milicic is now: he's a 27-year-old seven footer who's giving up more money in Europe to make it in the NBA. There has been this constant narrative in Darko's career about not ever getting close to his upside, but in the hands of Doc Rivers, that won't matter. If he's willing to put the hard hat on and work with KG, Doc will find a way to utilize his talents and if Darko can't find his way into the rotation, we'll know right away. You don't hear a lot about the growing pains of first year players in Doc's system because accountability starts in practice. If you're not pulling your weight in Waltham, you won't get playing time on the parquet.
I've been banging this drum all summer here and here and it's finally come to fruition. The Celtics needed one more big body to come off the bench. The kid is now an NBA veteran who fulfills a role on this team. Not every player is a game changer. He was once thought of as potentially being one, but that time has passed. When the Celtics re-signed Chris Wilcox and picked up Jason Collins, fans weren't jumping for joy because Danny had uncovered diamonds in the rough. They weren't going to be future All-Stars. The same should go for Darko. For everybody that's keen to label things, save yourself some time. Sit down, cynics. All that matters now is that he's a CELTIC.
UPDATE: CSNNE.com is confirming that the Darko deal is for one year at the veteran's minimum. Perfect.
The domino effect of Milicic's signing next week will be that it leaves just one roster spot for the handful of players in camp with non-guaranteed contracts. That group includes second-round pick Kris Joseph, summer league standouts Jamar Smith and Dionte Christmas, in addition to former Notre Dame big man Rob Kurtz who played in France last year, and former Gonzaga guard Micah Downs who played in Russia last year.
This is the downside to the deal. Going into camp, I thought Christmas and Joseph were locks to make the roster and Smith would be the odd man out, but with Darko in the fold, it could potentially mean that another of the summer league standouts could be cut.