Summer Romance: Free Darko?
ESPN Boston reaction: The Celtics have done a solid job beefing up their frontline this offseason, bringing back Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, and Chris Wilcox, while also drafting Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo. There's still the possibility of hanging onto restricted free agent Greg Stiemsma as well. But, as Boston has learned in each of the last center-ravaged seasons (losing Kendrick Perkins, Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal, and Wilcox late in the year and impeding their playoff runs) you can never have enough serviceable big men.
The question, of course, is whether Milicic is a "serviceable" big man. A bit of a cult figure, Milicic is a 27-year-old 7-footer who has averaged 6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game since being drafted No. 2 overall by the Detroit Pistons in 2003. In that time, he's bounced around to five different teams and enjoyed varying amounts of mediocrity. Here's what you need to know: In each of the last two seasons, Milicic has ranked in the 17th percentile of all NBA players in terms of points per play, according to Synergy Sports data. Even when averaging 8.8 points per game during the 2010-11 season with Minnesota, he was not an efficient scorer. He's an eyesore in the post on offense (despite that fact that more than half of his offense came on post-ups in 2010-11, he averaged a mere 0.657 points per play, ranking in the 12th percentile) and he can't finish off cuts. For a 7-footer, his rebounding percentages are atrocious (for his career, 18.2 percent on the defensive glass; 13.3 percent overall).
So why in the world would the Celtics -- or anyone else -- be interested? Well, Milicic's individual defensive numbers are decent and, throw him next to Kevin Garnett on a defensive-minded team and those stats will get even better. And you keep going back to the fact that he's a 7-footer; they don't grow on trees. Anything more than a minimun deal, however, might be a reach. Yes, you have to pay for big-man depth, but Boston is seemingly stocked enough that it probably shouldn't commit the biannual exception. That could seemingly be better utilized at the guard position, possibly retaining the likes of Mickael Pietrus or Keyon Dooling (depending on how Boston's quest for a frontline shooting guard goes).
Bottom line: Teams seem to think they can extract that No. 2 pick-caliber talent out of Milicic, and no one has done it yet. Of course, the legend of Darko would likely only grow in Boston, making him a Scalabrine-like figure. -- Chris Forsberg
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