Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Stay or leave: Examining Darko situation
By Chris Forsberg
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesDarko Milicic at work for the Celtics during the preseason.
A handful of thoughts on the heels of a Yahoo! Sports report that indicates center Darko Milicic is leaning towards leaving the Celtics:
* WHERE DO THINGS STAND?: Milicic did not travel with the team to Detroit on Sunday and was excused for personal reasons (the Yahoo report suggests his mother is ill). A league source said Monday that the Celtics have been accommodating with Milicic's situation and appear to have left his future in his hands.
* LIMITED IMPACT THUS FAR: On the surface, Milicic is an expandable piece. The 10th-year center has appeared in only one game for Boston, logging 4½ of court time in a 99-88 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks during the Celtics' home-opener on Nov. 2. But Boston would lose a serviceable 7-footer, one who showed an ability to thrive defensively in the preseason. The Celtics know far too well the importance of depth at the center position and, if Milicic elects to depart, that would erode a layer of that restocked depth, shuffling rookie Fab Melo -- now with the Maine Red Claws of the D-League -- a step closer to an emergency role unless the team adds further big-man depth down the road.
* WRIST INJURY ALTERED THE COURSE: Milicic was a late-offseason signing, but he had an excellent training camp. Emerging as a top reserve, one who matched up with Kevin Garnett in practice as Boston's second-team center, Milicic showed an ability to be a factor at both ends of the court during four preseason appearances (his offensive numbers were an eyesore, but he was an excellent passer and screener, while he thrived in clogging up the paint and rebounding at the other end of the floor). A wrist injury forced Milicic to miss the final four games of the exhibition slate, and slid him behind Chris Wilcox on the center depth chart. Rivers has leaned on a 10-man rotation at the start of the season, relegating Milicic and fellow veteran big man Jason Collins to emergency roles.
* BOSTON'S NEW BACKUP PLAN?: If Milicic elects to depart, it's unlikely the Celtics will see much in the way of cap relief, even if a buyout is facilitated. Boston stood at $71.9 million in committed salary at the start of the season and is already dangerously close to the $74.3 million tax apron it cannot exceed after utilizing the full value of the mid-level exception this past offseason. Milicic is on a minimum contract, earning $1.3 million, of which the Celtics pay $854,000 with the league picking up the rest of the tab. When Keyon Dooling retired this summer, Boston facilitated a $400,000 buyout (and he now works for the team's front office). Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has previously suggested the bi-annual exception is not in play this season, but Boston seemingly could add another minimum-contract player to fill that 15th spot. Given Rivers' tight rotation and Boston's limited funds, it would seemingly benefit the team to sit tight until later in the season to fill that roster spot. With limited wiggle room, the Celtics probably only have one chance to add another body to the roster this season and, without an immediate need for a big to replace Milicic if he departs, the team could wait to see who emerges on the free-agent market later in the season when their needs might change.