Being selected as the second overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, Darko Milicic was always under pressure and was expected to do great things in the NBA.
He had the potential to be an imposing force in the league, scouts said, and as a Serbian, one of the best international players ever.
When he was taken right after LeBron James, fans didn't know what to think.
Even Darko himself was perplexed.
“I don’t know why they took me with the second pick if you’re not going to play me,” he said. “I never understood that, you know. I was happy being the second pick and all that kind of stuff, but I never knew what I got myself into. I never knew I was coming here not to play. Nobody was telling me anything. Coming from Europe, you know, what do I know? I just wanted to play basketball."
The bitter truth is that Darko didn't have to change the landscape of the Pistons, as they had recorded 50 victories the previous season. This wasn't the case with James and the Cleveland Cavaliers or Carmelo Anthony and the Denver Nuggets, both of whom were expected to build upon
Here we stand, almost eight years later, and what do we have?
A 25-year-old still trying to find a niche in the league.
People often label Darko as one of the NBA's biggest draft busts ever, but is he in reality? The seven-footer is a center, a position the Pistons haven't needed until recently because of Ben Wallace's noteworthy career, and even now they have a blooming prospect in Greg Monroe.
Additionally, it was often noted that then-Pistons coach Larry Brown and other Detroit coaches detested playing youthful members of the roster, which explains why 2002 first-rounder Tayshaun Prince's minutes per game shot from 10.2 to 32.9 his second season in Motown. That stat was courtesy of previous coach Rick Carlisle.
Besides, isn't the goal of the NBA to win championships?
Even though he didn't have a significant role in the 2004 postseason, he still has what James and the rest of the gang still long for.
Eight seasons later, Darko is enjoying his finest season in the association up in the frigid north. He is averaging nine points and better than two blocks, and is undoubtedly the Minnesota Timberwolves' best post defender.
And at 25, he could still have a decade in him.
Instead of calling Darko a "bust," we may have to refer to him as a "delay," and maybe someday he'll be a starter for his second championship team.
For now, he'll have to continue his recent high level of play while the rest of the league reminds him that superstars heard their names called out before his own.
Joseph Fafinski is currently a freshman at the University of Missouri. Originally from Chaska, Minnesota, Joseph is the Minnesota Timberwolves Featured Columnist and a frequent writer of the NBA, NFL, and MLB. You can e-mail Joseph at firstname.lastname@example.org.