April 2, 2006 -- Orlando future bright with Darko
I'D LIKE to take this opportunity to thank the Mavericks for taking the suspense out of the NBA's last remaining division competition.
Losers of three straight and five of seven, Friday night's 108-99 collapse at Orlando was especially hideous because it wasted Dirk Nowitzki's 38 points and 15 rebounds.
The Magic, meanwhile, are infinitely better than their 29-44 record suggests. Since distancing themselves from Steve Francis, acquiring Darko Milicic, Carlos Arroyo and Trevor Ariza, committing to Jameer Nelson and G'ing up Tony Battie for $22 million over the next four years, Orlando has become what's known outside of New York as a "team." Let's hear some appreciation for Magic management. Co-GMs Otis Smith and Dave Twardzik, with plenty of input, no doubt, from coach Brian Hill, are re-building the rational way.
Half past their first year in charge, they dumped swollen salaries/egos, established Dwight Howard as the rightful franchise player upon Francis' extradition and took a relatively irrelevant financial gamble by agreeing to assume Arroyo's two-year, $8 million contract as the tax for attaining a luxury item such as Milicic.
Describing Milicic as a luxury item? Only those who haven't closely checked out how the lefty 7-foot, 21-year-old (come June 20) is doing in Orlando think I'm goofing on him. From where I'm scoping, he's an adept shooter, a clever-touch distributor, a skilled rebounder, an adroit outlet passer and a fertile shot blocker. Look, Ma, Darko's fundamentally flawless.
Furthermore, Milicic does something you rarely see anymore: he sets a pick and holds it. What that does, aside from freeing up his teammate, is make him a dangerous receiver the very next time they run the screen-and-roll. Because now Darko's man believes he's going to hold it. Instead, he rolls to the hoop for an open layup and has the hands to catch the pass
Finally, deep into his third season, I almost grasp what Pistons president Joe Dumars was thinking when he elected to take Milicic No. 2 behind LeBron James, instead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade.
"The day we traded Darko I told our media, given the daylight he's bound to get in Orlando, he'll put up 18 points, ten rebounds and four blocks from time to time," said Dumars, whose Hall of Fame selection will be announced tomorrow. So far in 20 games, Darko is averaging 7.9 (55 FG%), 4.7 and 2.4 in 21.4 minutes.
"He has that kind of talent. He just never got the chance to show it here because we had three All-Stars ahead of him, all in their prime. I'm aware what Darko's capabilities are, but over the course of time he became increasingly depressed. He couldn't take sitting anymore. "... Our media thinks I was blowing smoke, but I knew he was going to fulfill his promise once he cold relax and stop looking over his shoulder when he got in the game."
Orlando's Darko Deal, it says here, will go down in NBA history as one of th league's all-time player-jackings. Even if I'm rowdy wrong, even if Milicic should mysteriously suffer a relapse and turn into another Nikoloz Tskitishvili (No. 5 overall pick in '02 by Denver), his procurement still was meticulously worth the Magic's monetary investment; that's all they really gave. Unlike Isiah Thomas, who misused Penny Hardaway's supposedly precious $15.75 million expiring contract on three more years ($48.5 million) of Francis ("You mean to tell me he couldn't even get Larry Brown a role player he liked for that asset?" wrote LA Times columnist Mark Heisler), the Magic took a low-rent risk on Milicic.
In exchange for Kelvin Cato's virtually vanished $8.6 million salary, the Magic accepted Arroyo's two-year, $4 million-per obligation and Milicic's one year at $5.1 million. If the coaching staff falls out of love with Darko next season, his departure won't leave the franchise capsized a la New York. If he turns out to be a certified center, well, this is how championship contenders are constructed.