TWolves center says he’s after a new beginning.
by Michael Romyn / @Posting_Up
Let’s inject a sober dose of realism here: For all the talk of clean slates and untapped potential coming from the Timberwolves organization this summer, the odds of Darko Milicic setting the League on fire are longer than Marcin Gortat’s nose. After seven years of meager production, it would be a stretch to believe otherwise.
But don’t count him out entirely. While he may never turn out to be the “manna from heaven” that David Kahn envisioned, the 25-year-old believes he has finally found a home in Minnesota.
“The coaches have given me a lot of confidence because I’ve had more of a chance to play,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about mistakes and you don’t have to worry about missed shots, which makes it much easier for a player.
“I’m getting ready to be in good shape both mentally and physically. I’m looking at this like a fresh start.”
The problem with fresh starts is that they can turn sour very quickly, something Milicic knows all too well. When the Grizzlies traded him to the Knicks last June, many thought he would thrive in New York’s high-octane offense.
Instead, Milicic found his way into D’Antoni’s infamous dog-house, playing just eight games for the Knicks. By December, he’d made it clear he was ready to pack his bags and head home.
“I wasn’t mad at the League, I wasn’t mad at anybody. I just wanted to leave the NBA and go to Europe because it was the only chance I would have,” said Milicic. “After all the bad experiences, I just thought no one would ever give me another chance to play.”
When dwelling on his past, which was mired in disappointment long before he landed in New York, Milicic spoke with a world-weariness that belied his age.
“You know, when I was younger I thought everything was going to be fine,” he said. “But you find out later on that life is not that easy. Stuff happens that you don’t expect. It was very frustrating in the beginning.”
Being drafted with the second overall pick has been the millstone around his neck. Without it, he never would have been the bust, the walking punch line, the guy who failed to deliver on the hype. But it’s a millstone he’ll never shake, no matter what he does in Minnesota.
“It’s tough,” he admitted. “Being the second pick, it was always tough. You happen to be the second pick, you happen to end up on a team that doesn’t want to play rookies, but I can’t change that. It happened.”
Fact is, Milicic never lived up to the lofty expectations because he was never as good as advertised. Blame the scouts, blame Chad Ford, blame Joe Dumars and Larry Brown, but think twice before you blame Milicic; it wasn’t his fault they got it wrong.
But, with a starting role, the prospect of heavy minutes and, most importantly, a coach and front office that believe in him ($16 million over four years’ worth of belief), Milicic is optimistic about his future.
“You’ve got to think positive, be positive, and hope something is going to happen, and it did. Minnesota came from nowhere and gave me a chance,” he said.
As for the team, Milicic is anxious to improve on last years’ 15-win season, a record that would make even Mike Dunleavy Sr blush.
“Last year was a fucking disaster for us,” he said. “I don’t think anybody on this team wants to go through that again. We know everything isn’t going to turn around over night, but we will try and take it step by step.
“We can’t take nights off, because we’re not that kind of team. For us every game is going to be a playoff game. It’s going to be a challenge for all of us as young guys, as a young team. As long as we find a way to win, we’ll be fine. I don’t like losing. Nobody likes losing.”
While David Kahn’s offseason wheeling and dealing may have left some people scratching their heads (Al Jefferson for Kosta Koufos and some picks? Really?), Milicic believes they’ve got the personnel to stay competitive.
He said, “We got Michael [Beasley] and we’ve got Kevin Love, who got experience this summer with the national team and proved a lot. We’ve got a lot of talented guys who can score.”
And what about himself; will he be looking to score more now Jefferson’s gone?
“You know, I have that shit in me, I just didn’t have a chance to use it,” he said. “I used to be offensive, I used to be a three-point shooter. So for me, I’ve just got to switch the flip and have that offensive mind-set.
“It’s what I used to do before I got to the NBA, and it’s what I’m going to try to do again.”