Milicic impresses Pistons -- and the rest of the leaguePosted: Tuesday June 24, 2003 9:42 PM
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) -- The Detroit Pistons aren't the only NBA team raving about Darko Milicic.
They are the one that plans to make 7-foot, 245-pounder from Serbia and Montenegro the second player taken in Thursday night's draft.
If the Utah Jazz had the first pick, Alberto Dal Cin, their director of international scouting, would make a strong push to draft Milicic ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers' first overall choice of LeBron James.
"Personally, I would take Darko ahead of LeBron James because he has more skills and can play more positions," Dal Cin said. "There are very few can't-miss players, but I have no doubt that Darko is a can't-miss player.
"I think Darko can play center, power forward or small forward. Nobody knows if LeBron is a point or a shooting guard. And Darko will not bring the same kind of problems and expectations that LeBron will because he has already signed a $90 million shoe contract."
Donn Nelson, Dallas' president of basketball operations, said the rest of the Eastern Conference must be wincing that a team as good as the Pistons are set to add a player like Milicic.
Nelson said Milicic impressed him and a slew of NBA scouts last year in Dallas during the Global Games, a competition featuring high school stars from all over the world.
"For his size and frame," Nelson said, "his quickness, agility, skill and power are staggering."
Nelson would take James if Dallas had the top pick, but said the Mavericks would discuss the possibility of drafting Milicic or former Syracuse star Carmelo Anthony, who is expected to go to Denver with the third pick.
"If your need is center or power forward, Darko is your guy," Nelson said.
That's why the Pistons have had their eyes locked on Milicic since Memphis landed the second pick in the NBA draft lottery and had to give it to them to finalize a six-year-old trade for Otis Thorpe.
"It's been my dream to play in the NBA," Milicic said through an interpreter Tuesday. "I've been waiting for this day for so long."
Detroit was the only team in the Eastern Conference with 50 wins last season, but it was swept by New Jersey in the conference finals in part because of a lack of scoring options. The Pistons desperately need a power forward or center to score next to Ben Wallace, who became an All-Star by just defending and rebounding.
"When you see his ability to do things at that height and size, it gives you cause to be excited about what he could be," Joe Dumars, Detroit's president of basketball operations, said of Milicic.
Dumars and Marc Cornstein, Milicic's agent, are undeterred by the lawsuit Milicic's European team has threatened against Cornstein and any NBA team attempting to sign the 18-year-old because it has him under contract through 2009.
NBA teams are not prevented from drafting players under contract to foreign teams. However, league rules stipulate an NBA team can pay no more than $350,000 toward buying out a player's contract.
"It's a negotiations ploy," Cornstein said Tuesday. "There will be a settlement and Darko Milicic will be a Detroit Piston."
Picking Milicic seems to be a popular choice in Detroit even though fans have seen only highlights of him shooting 3-pointers and dunking.
"The more tape you watch of this kid, you realize you're watching something very unusual," Dumars said. "The highlights really don't do justice.
"We've seen him in extended workouts. We try to put guys in every possible situation to see how they respond. At some point, they have to show strength and they have to show athleticism. I will try to temper it, but he's been exceptional with the stuff we've put him through."
Dal Cin first saw Milicic two years ago in Europe, where he has played professionally and lived on his own since he was 14. His first salary was $100 a month.
"He caught my eye right away and I've loved his game and his attitude ever since," Dal Cin said. "He can score inside and out. He can put the ball on the floor. He passes like [Sacramento's] Vlade Divac."
Nelson has been impressed with Milicic's demeanor.
"The thing that makes him special beyond his physical package is his toughness," Nelson said. "There's something about being from the former Yugoslavia that makes you have a lot of street toughness. With his background, he will not back down from anybody in the league and will push himself to succeed."
Dumars said he would be surprised if Milicic fails to handle the pressure, expectations and newfound riches in a foreign country.
"I'm telling you, he's a different type of 18-year-old," Dumars said. "When you're living through wars and you've been on your own in an apartment since you're 14 years old, that tends to make you mature a lot faster."