Wolves' Milicic trying to prove he's not a bust
By Dave Campbell, AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS -- Darko Milicic was skeptical about Minnesota's interest at first.
Last February, a trade made the Timberwolves his fifth team in seven frustrating NBA seasons. The second pick in that dream 2003 draft, Milicic has been no more than the answer in a which-one-of-these-players-doesn't-belong question about LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
The rebuilding Timberwolves, in need of a true center who can contribute at both ends of the court, provided plenty of playing time over two months. They liked enough of what they saw to give Milicic a four-year contract last week worth a guaranteed $16 million.
"They just really wanted to give me a chance. When I came here, I really saw that people are real and not just telling me lies," Milicic said on Friday afternoon, his first appearance in Minnesota since the deal was done. "That's when I decided to make the best of it last season."
Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn and coach Kurt Rambis visited Milicic's home in Serbia and helped seal his desire to return to the NBA instead of staying in Europe.
"We both agreed that it was going to be good for me and them," Milicic said.
In a recent interview with Chris Webber on NBA TV during a summer league game, Kahn called Milicic's acquisition "like manna from heaven," one of many superlatives Kahn used to defend Milicic to a rather skeptical Webber, who wondered what the Wolves see in Milicic to warrant the new contract.
Milicic said he wasn't worried about any of the criticism of Minnesota's faith in an unproven player who was out of shape when he came in the trade with New York but managed to average 8.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 24 games.
"I don't really follow that kind of stuff," Milicic said. "The Wolves, they wanted me here, they signed me, that's what they wanted, that's what they got. Other people, they can talk on the web. They can come to Serbia and tell me to my face. It's going to be different."
Kahn said Milicic came to the NBA too soon -- he was 18 when Detroit drafted him -- and he suffered from the high expectations of being such a high pick.
"There's no question that he was drafted too high for that year," Kahn said. "That was a mistake. And I'm not pointing the finger at anybody in saying so. ... Kid from Serbia in a new country at a place where they were trying to win a championship, you can't think of a worse situation for him to develop in."
Milicic claimed coming to the NBA at the time was the best decision for him, that staying in his league in Serbia would not have allowed him to develop any better.
"I can't just blame other people. I blame myself too. I didn't do as much as I can," Milicic said, reflecting on his rough start.
The 7-foot Milicic said he's in better condition and taking this season "really really seriously." The Wolves believe his passing ability and skills on the block both offensively and defensively will fit well with Rambis and his triangle offense.
"The system that he plays, for big guys it's so easy and simple," Milicic said.
Said Kahn: "In Darko's case, I think he's at a moment in his career where he finally gets it. He's happy to be here and we're happy to have him."
AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.