Two Words For You:FREE. DARKO.
It's not Darko's fault he's an NBA punch line. In fact, riffing off the ESPN Classic show, here are "Five Reasons You Can't Blame Darko":
(1) Hype: Chad Ford's legacy at ESPN.com might be tied to his bullish pronouncements about Darko, at the time a mysterious Eastern Euro big man with Dirk-ish skills.
(Darko's draft status also coincided with the height of Euro speculation, which didn't just include Ford, but the entire NBA. But how can you really question Pistons GM Joe Dumars?)
(2) Larry Brown: Brown hates rookies. He hates rookies without college experience even more. Dumars underestimated how much playing for Brown could (and would) constrain Darko's development.
(And if you want confirmation of Brown's contribution to Darko's problems, just take a look at the young Knicks this season, the NBA's worst team.)
(3) The 2003 Draft Class: LeBron. Wade. Bosh. Anthony. May go down as the most top-heavy class of all time, making Darko's unfulfilled potential all the more frustrating.
(Keep in mind, most fans howled when the Pistons didn't take Carmelo; today, those critics would be kicking themselves for not taking Wade or Bosh. The lesson? Hindsight is the best draft guru.)
(4) Pistons starters: For Darko's 3 seasons in the NBA, Detroit has been a 3-time NBA Finalist. Four of the starters are All-Stars, with the 5th making a strong case. No young player would have wedged their way in, least of all one with as little experience as Darko.
(Make no mistake: If Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or Carmelo Anthony were drafted by Detroit, Brown would have parked them at the end of the bench, and they would have had as little chance to crack Detroit's lineup as Darko.)
(5) (Well, maybe a little.) There's no widespread perception that Darko is doing the things that make you believe he wants to fulfill his potential. He gripes a lot (but under Brown, wouldn't you?) -- yet everyone who watches him in practice says he is improving.
Hopefully, for Darko's sake, the Magic's deal with the Pistons gets done and he gets a fresh start in a promising young lineup with a defined position, low expectations and a coach willing to give him playing time.
It's not too late for Darko.
And it's not all his fault.