April 10, 2011
DENVER - Timberwolves center Darko Milicic is about to complete a season that he says is unlike any of his first seven in the NBA.Yet, many of the same questions remain about a player who played well against some of the league's best centers, and finished the season fifth in the entire league in blocked shots. "It wasn't great, but it was OK," Milicic said. "I feel much more comfortable playing basketball. I think this is the first season where I really believed somebody, really believed the people here. I think it's the first time I'm really looking forward to next season."
"He didn't have the season where he regained all of his confidence," Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said. "There's a lot more to his game that he didn't show this year."That's going to come over time. After having spent so many years whatever he went through to lose that confidence, it's going to take a while to get it back."
I find this fascinating.
We start to delve into the inner psyche of Darko Milicic, a player, who, as everyone knows, was drafted second overall in 2003, when the other four top-five picks included LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony. Obviously, Darko didn't hold up his end of the bargain. Now that Celtic fans are forced to root for Dear Darko, I'm sure most of us are like, well, you weren't worth a #2 pick, but, you know, shake it off, and be productive like you were in 2010-11, and you'll be a folk hero in Beantown.
Starting with a "clean slate" sounds easy enough. But let's step into Darko's shoes for a minute.
Read this recent blip from a Celtic blogger:
Many times I have wondered if Darko Milicic has ever read a blog. Like, if he knows anything of the massive reputation he’s developed after almost a decade as the laughingstock of the Internet. Has he heard of Free Darko? Does he occasionally Google “Darko” and get confused when almost all the results are about Donnie Darko? Does he scroll through old RealGM forums on his Blackberry Torch in the bathroom, running the shower so his children can’t hear him cry? The only thing we can know for sure is that his web browser is Safari. The rest is a tantalizing mystery, never to be solved.
But if I had to guess, just based on his facial expressions when he plays, I think that he basically knows what people think of him. He always sort of looks like he’s built an emotional wall to keep out all his haters, and every reaction he has is some variation on angry—lots of air-punching and scary mugs. Basketball does not look like the funnest thing in his life. Could it have stopped being fun when he learned that basically everyone in the arena was laughing at him at all times? Doesn’t that seem kind of reasonable?
I know some of this was meant tongue-in-cheek. But some of it wasn't. Either way, the underlying sentiments may shed light on the inner life of Darko, otherwise known as his psychological well-being. Read what I wrote yesterday about how things may snowball on Darko, then read the above blogger blip, and finally take note of what Darko said after his surprisingly productive season in 2010-11: "I feel much more comfortable playing basketball. I think this is the first season where I really believed somebody, really believed the people here. I think it's the first time I'm really looking forward to next season."
I don't think you simply shrug off being the #2 pick, disappointing several teams, and then being relegated to the bench just one season after showing some signs of life. I think the 2011-12 season may have conjured up some old ghosts that Darko has never fully put to rest. It sounds like Doc is giving Darko until January to settle in, figure things out, and accept a role where he can be consistent and productive.
I want to be optimistic. But at the end of the day, the best I can do is simply wait and see. I do think, however, we can put together a timeline of milestones for him. I'll do that next post.