Defending Darko and David: Milicic First Of T-Wolves Many Right Moves

Joe M.Correspondent IIJuly 7, 2010

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - APRIL 7: Chris Hunter #31 of the Golden State Warriors dunks against Darko Milicic #31 of the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first half during a basketball game at Target Center on April 7, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice:  Copyright 2010 NBAE (Photo by Hannah Foslien /Getty Images)
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Go ahead. Get it out of your system, just like every other non-Timberwolves fan and national media talking head (Chad Ford, Chris Mannix et al) who has criticized the Wolves re-signing perfect-fit center Darko Milicic. Milici signed a $20 million contract with Minnesota on the first day of free agency.

Was it a lot of money? Sure. Was it more than I would have offered him? Yes.

But I know one thing. Darko fits the triangle offense, and he did many things well in that offense (passing).

Curious onlookers note his 8.3ppg and 5.5 rpg in 24 games with the club. What they don't see, in addition to the obvious fit and new desire to play, which cannot be understated, is in keeping Milicic, the Wolves shored up a glaring need. Rasho Nesterovic, easily the best statistical center in franchise history-and that's saying something, left town in what felt permaturely.

Don't forget that Darko re-upped early in the afternoon on day one (impressive for Kahn in himself since we couldn't do anything until he and "Pek" were done. Ford and others ripped this move before NBA-free-agency-Ex-Pistons-Darko-Johnson-get-deals" title="NBA free agency: Ex-Pistons Darko, Johnson get deals" target="_blank">Amir Johnson (Toronto 5 years-$34M) or Drew "How is he still in the league?" Gooden (Milwaukee 5 years, $32M got their equally staggering deals). They fail to re-adjust their fright based on this.

Johnson's stat line: 6.2ppg, 4.8 rpg, 0.5apg, all numbers worse than Darko who got paid less. Gooden? Nothing but a more expensive version of Joe Smith or Ryan Gomes. Gooden is on his ninth team in eight years.


Even Darko (five teams) can't say that. They need to ask why no one seems to want Gooden long term? Like Gomes, all he is is a nice player whose maxed out. What you see is what you get. That's it. Period.

All I am saying is, if you want to bash the Darko deal, be sure to include the others in the same breath, if not before.

They also fail to answer, "if not Darko, then who?"

Consider this is the same franchise that historically has trotted out junk like Stanley Roberts, Stoko Vrankovic, Andrew Lang, Luc Longley, Mark Jackson, Paul Grant, Dean Garrett, Cherokee Parks, Chris Richard, and Felton Spencer, just to name a few of the failures who have tried to fill the ever-glaring void.

When you also consider that all were a combination of failed draft picks, free-agent signings-Michael Olowokandi anyone? or trades-Jackson, Blount, and Garrett, nothing has worked. Albeit, Milicic didn't have to do much to reach that pitiful ceiling.

In addition to his still-promising youth, Darko has another thing none of the above had: upside. He's still only 25, apparantly has a new lease on life, and showed plenty of flashes of why he has such a high draft pick (although one that even the most blind Wolf fan would admit was too high).

In his 24 games with the Wolves, Milicic had double didgit points nine times (37% of the time). Projected over an 82 game season, this would equal roughly 30 games. I don't know about you, but I'd take it, especially when you consider he barely averaged 25 minutes a game.  

He also set career highs in points, assists, and steals while finishing with his second highest rebound total. His most impressive game of the season came March 19 against the Lakers, when he scored 16 points on 8 of 12 shooting, grabbed 12 rebounds, and recored a steal and a block in 29 minutes during a 104-96 loss in Los Angeles.

Finally, more of Darko means, less of Ryan Hollins, this roster's new Mark Madsen in terms of playful, off-the-bench "energy" but-little-else, and is certainly not worth his $3.5 million price tag. Just that realization alone makes it worth it.

Still not sold on Milicic? Think he tried hard just to get one final American contract and now that he got it, will have nothing left to play for and pack it in?


Remember, he's European. He didn't have to stay, and thus play here. He didn't owe the Wolves or the NBA anything. Much like Ricky Rubio in Spain, he didn't need the Wolves. They needed him.

I'm sure he had more lucrative offers (or at least comparable) ones closer to home that would have made more sense, but he wanted to come back. That says something. If he didn't have comparable offers yet, they assuredly would have come. But he had since found a home in Minnesota.

When you win 15 games, as the Wolves have, you need all the players who actually want to be there that you can get. We could have done worse.

Enter Nikola Pekovic

The next good move Wolves GM David Kahn made was finally bringing over a foreign player the Wolves and their fans can get excited about for the first time since Nesterovic in the best statistical center in the NBA in Montenegro's Nikola Pekovic.

I admit I've never seen the guy play one second and I'm only going off of hype and reading messageboads, and blind faith, but what I've heard and read has mostly been good. I also know that having the best center in him, and he best point guard in all of Europe, can't hurt. Just look at the San Antonio Spurs as a model of how they do things with foreign imports.

Why else was it a good move? Ryan Hollins' diminished minutes aside, and that is key- (sorry Ryan) is he'll essentially play the 18 or so minutes when Milicic needs a breather. That will keep them both fresh and focused and provide the best depth at the position the team has had since, well, potentially ever, and thus the reason for the optimism.

In only playing 18-20 minutes, depending on if Hollins too is back, (more if he's not) one should only expect him to put up, what, 3-6ppg and 3-5 rpg?. Too rich for the 4 year $13 million he got right? I say no.

Not only did Kahn once again cross off an entire position of need for the next four years with identical-lengthed contracts to both European big men, but he gave at least me another reason to watch, care, and check a boxscore to see how each did.

Remember, reports indicate Pekovic would have been a late lottery pick had his contract not obligated him to his European team for two years and now that those two years are up, here is a foreign product that actually made due on his promise to come here, which has to give some faith to the Ricky Rubio-waiting crowd as a prescedent.

I have no idea if "Pek" can play, but I sure want to see if he can and I'm willing to give him a try. My guess is he's better than Hollins and that alone is worth it (have I mentioned that enough?)

So in sum, what has Kahn done so far? Shored up the center position in Milicic and Pekovic with young players with plenty of skill and upside, and essentially the point guard position with Rubio (starter) and Flynn in 2011 if all goes well.

When was the last time you could say the team was set at two positions for years to come? It used to be Kevin Garnett at power forward as the only sure thing and fingers-crossed/don't-get-too-attached on the rest.

Power forward depth

By now many of you are probably writing me off as a dilusional blind homer but just to prove that is not the case, I will offer this: I do not understand what David Lee brings to the table that clone Kevin Love or Al Jefferson who are already here, don't. Both Love and Lee are good rebounding tweeners with upside only Lee will cost you a lot more.

While I am intrigued by Lee only that it would be a big catch by Kahn to prove he can bring big players here for his own face-saving ego, making a move just to do so, is risky and dumb.

Jefferson is your only available real asset to trade and he should not go in the same deal that nets you Lee. He should go in another deal, for much greater value, that brings you more depth and more change since what you have clearly isn't working and even with a decent draft (none of the ESPN heads ripped it for a change) not enogh has been done yet.

Still, as it stands right now the team has Jefferson and Lazar Hayward out of Marquette.

I'd never heard of him prior to him being drafted and I'm not going to pretend to hype him up. Undrafted projection or not, all I know is he went to a Big East school that has made the NCAA tounament each of the last two years as a six seed. Surely, at 18.5ppg and 7.5rpg, he must have been a reason why and not just a lucky benefactor.

Additionally, like fellow rookie Wesley Johnson, who is starting to grow on me after hearing his upbeat interviews, he speaks as if he wants to be here and help the team contribute and do so right away. A total 180 from the Ricky Rubio situation last year.

That too, alone is a winner. Nothing like building early comeroderie as the team is clearly trying to do with similar players of similar personality.

Again, its not like Hayward is going to have to shoulder the load and step right in to Jefferson's shoes should he eventually be traded as we all expect. Either his replacement acquired in the trade, or Lee himself would help him adjust to NBA life.

Thus, he's not expected to put up the 17.5 ppg or 10rpg we've seen Jefferson do. At this point, I'd take 10ppg and six rpg but that's just a guess since we don't know the minutes he'll get.  

Shooting Guard depth

Corey Brewer might be the de-facto incumbent here but we all know he's a natural small forward, similar to Johnson and Martell Webster. All three players, as wings, will get looks here and at small forward. What Kahn is doing is creating both versitility and depth two things the team sorely lacked last year.

While the lineup may be:

Jefferson-Love-Milicic-Johnson-Flynn for now it won't stay that way.

My guess it eventually becomes: X (acquired in the Jefferson trade, Love, Milicic, Johnson, Flynn with Webster serving as the key sixth man. Did we even have anyone worthy of this title last year? The closest would have had to be rookie Ellington who can't be expected to carry that much of the load although he was the most promising rookie, especially of late.

Johnson, Webster, and Brewer are all going to get minutes here so their stats should be fine but I don't currently expect anyone to light it up simply because of the rotation required, however, it wouldn't shock me to see Brewer and his $3.5 million salary included in any Jefferson deal if only to clear up not only more cap space but also minutes for the more-talanted-than-Brewer Webster and Johnson.

Last year                                    vs.                      next year:

2009-10 Timberwolves

PF Jefferson/                                                      Jefferson? Hayward, Lee? trade

SF Love, Pecherov, Wilkins, Gomes,                       Love

C: Hollins, Jawai                                                 Milicic, Pekovic

SG Brewer, Ellington, Pavlovic,                              Johnson/Webster/Ellington

PG Flynn, Sessions                                              Flynn

I only put eight real players since those are the only ones that I think are "safe" unless Kahn gets "blown away" as he likes to say (Flynn). It wouldn't shock me to see Sessions packaged in a NY deal for Lee (remember they wanted him last year).

I also think second round pick Nemanja Bjelica and his Toni Kukoc-esque comparisons are tantalyzing enough in itself, but from what I've heard the team would actually perfer he stay in Europe one more year to work on his game instead of coming to America which he wants to do.

Again, while you can't blame a kid who actually wants to play on your lowly team, another year would probably do him some good (see Rubio).

If he comes over, he'd be the ninth in additon to the 10th being the choice of whoever they get for Jefferson Lee over player X for example.

Call me crazy, but doesn't the 2010-11 team already look a lot more promising? Look at the glaring lack of depth. No real PF's outside of Jefferson. Wilkins and Hollins getting major minutes? Nathan Jawai and Pavlovic even seeing the floor? What are you supposed to do when dealt a hand like that?

I mean, the 2009-10 team, with perceived less talent, stumbled to 15 wins, this team, Johnson alone, should get 20. Throw in Webster, a full season of Milicic, and anything you get out of Hayward, Jefferson's replacement, and the continued growth of Love, Flynn, and Ellington and the team could get 25.

While that doesn't seem like much, ten wins is ten wins, and in this league, thats small steps, especially if thats your floor for improvement which is the least I expect.

Remember these Wolves aren't done. The "big one" we've all been waiting for is likely coming (Jefferson trade) although I think we'd better re-adjust our return expectations. Maybe Lee+1 round pick at this point.

Don't rule out a three-way trade something no one seems to mention. It was a four-way deal that got us Latrell Sprewell remember? An NBA rarity. The team still needs similar veteran presence one would guess from the Jefferson deal but at this point who can Kahn get? That is the question but until then this is what we got.

Knowing what we know, I ask you: How bad is it?

Statistics and information from Detroit Free Press, Wikipedia, and directly contributed to the content in this article.


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