Google Darko Milicic and the words "draft bust" and you launch a never-ending Internet debate on where his selection by the Pistons with the No. 2 pick in the 2003 NBA draft ranks among the league's all-time worst picks.
The 7-foot Serbian hasn't exactly had the kind of career that anyone expected when Joe Dumars picked him over Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. This goes a long way toward explaining why there was little fanfare when the Knicks traded Quentin Richardson to obtain him from Memphis this summer.
Yet a couple weeks into training camp, and it's looking like that trade could pan into a fairly savvy move. Milicic has played for a variety of coaches in Detroit, Orlando and Memphis. His best season was in 2006-07 when he averaged 8.0 points and 5.5 rebounds. This marks the first time, however, that Milicic has played in a system that fits him as well as Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo one.
"I'm still trying to adjust to all the freedom I have," said Milicic, whose clashes with control freak Larry Brown in Detroit were legendary. "I'm having a great time playing the way Coach wants me to play with all the freedom that I have."
D'Antoni, who coached Serbian players in Italy, said he likes what he sees.
"He's a smart basketball player," D'Antoni said. "He sees the floor, he knows the game. That's almost impossible to teach. We just need to get him involved and feeling good."
There's a chance that the 7-foot Milicic may have been miscast when he was drafted by the Pistons as a teenager. Milicic is now 24, recently became a father and seems to have a new sense of seriousness about him. He also seems to have the kind of toughness that can help the Knicks on defense.
"He's in a different place in his life right now," D'Antoni said. "He was so young in Detroit. I think he was a different guy back then."
The question, of course, is whether he will be a different player now. Or different enough to be an important player for the Knicks.
Said Milicic: "I'm still learning the team and my teammates. But I think this is a good opportunity for me."