Darko Milicic should have never be drafted with the second pick in 2003 NBA draft. You already know the story so I will save you the time to read it over again. The fact is that he should have never been part of that first round or maybe even of the whole draft itself. Maybe one year later or maybe just not drafted at all would have been much better for all, Milicic included. At age 18, Darko was a completely raw project that should have stayed in Europe, learnt and experienced the rigors of competition in FIBA basketball before crossing the ocean.
Blame players as Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki for the Milicic failure. Memphis and Dallas took a huge gamble in 1998 and 2001 respectively when they selected both big men in the draft. Gasol had played two years before in EBA Spanish basketball, something similar to fourth division and Nowitzki also wasn't part of any big team in the German league. A year before the draft, a skinny Gasol had huge success playing for FC Barcelona in ACB Spanish League, but even then he was considered a work in progress. In fact, some analysts in Spain even blamed his NBA experience for the lack of development of Gasol's fundamentals and three point shooting that he was learning in Spain. The truth is that the NBA has no time to develop players, that's the role of the NBDL or other leagues. That is why Fab Melo should spend some months in Maine to continue learning the game.
For every Gasol there is one Fran Vazquez (#11st, 2005) , for every Marcin Gortat (#57th, 2005) there is one Maciej Lampe (#30th, 2003). There is a huge risk in selecting big men in the draft, particularly when these players have little contact with the way basketball is played in the USA. There is a cultural change, a rule change and a general adjustment to be made for such young players. And it's also to be noted that big men need a lot of time to fully develop. Nobody thought Kendrick Perkins would be such a good player except probably Doc, who gave him much space and time to build into the player he is now. Players as Vazquez and Lampe are part of the elite of FIBA basketball nowadays, but they were simply not ready to be stars when they were selected in the draft.
Milicic wasn't ready to play in the NBA in 2003, let alone to be a part of the Detroit Pistons who had players such as Rasheed and Ben Wallace in their roster. After that Milicic started to fall into an spiral of self destruction in which he tried to be that 2nd pick in the draft. Playing for teams like the Knicks, the Grizzlies or the Wolves didn't help him either. That negativity, disappointment and self depreciation took a hard hit in Darko's mind while he didn't really develop his basketball skills in the process. He grew meaner and more difficult to coach, to the extent where he was already headed to Madrid when the Celtics offered him a deal for the veteran minimum.
Darko is only 27 and he already has stayed for 9 years in the league. Unlike other big men in the market (Eddy Curry, Erick Dampier anyone?) Milicic is still very young and can add something big if he buys into Doc's system which so far he shows he's done.
In Boston's two preseason games, Darko has shown he can be a very effective player in the middle by blocking shots, rebounding and being a presence in the middle. He can be the enforcer of this team (something the team hasn't had since Perk left) and also he can be just a huge body in the paint (like Shaq). Playing alongside Garnett can free him from the dirty work in the paint and make his job much easier. His passing and basketball IQ are higher than predicted and his conditioning is improving in the last weeks.
Doc and the rest of the team are trying to make Milicic forget about the lofty expectations of 2003 and concentrate on his role. If Darko fully buys into that consistently he will have a very high chance of reinventing himself and a final and vital chance to clean his image and regain part of the glory of with he dreamed in 2003. Playing in the rotation for the 2013 NBA champions will open the door so long ago shut for him in the NBA glory. After all, Carmelo Anthony (#3, 2003) still hasn't won an NBA title.
This time Darko Milicic is ready to be a good player in this league. Wearing Celtics green, ready for success to finally knock on his door.