Saturday, January 21, 2006

You can't keep a good man down. That is the lesson that Flip Saunders and Larry Brown are only now starting to learn with respect to Darko Milicic.

On Monday of this past week, Darko had to sit through yet another undeserved benching in the Pistons' 94-84 victory over the Celtics. He only got three minutes on the court in Atlanta on Wednesday in the 117-89 blowout victory over the Hawks, and was the only player on the roster to not receive extended minutes. However, Darko shrugged off the insult and managed to contribute a bucket and a board.

It wasn't until Thursday night in the Big Apple that Darko really got a chance to show his stuff. As usual, Flip waited until garbage time to put our man into the game. Flip loves to hold Darko to a couple of minutes at a time in order to prevent him from ever establishing a rhythm; he can then point to Darko's supposedly poor play and use that as an excuse for not playing him in the next game. This is a modus operandi that Mr. Saunders picked up from his predecessor, Mr. Brown. For whatever reason, these guys believe that the only good Darko is a beaten-down Darko.

What Flippy and Larry weren't anticipating was DM's resolve to thwart their plans and clear his good name. With six minutes to go, Darko roared off the bench and ran roughshod over the Knicks. He went 3 for 3, grabbed two offensive boards, one defensive, and he also threw in an assist for good measure. The final score was 105 to 79.

After the game, Brownie said "It was like the JV and the varsity," and continued on to say "They're at a whole different level than we are right now." Old Larry wasn't man enough to come out and say it in plain English, but what these comments represented was a begrudged acknowledgement that Darko handed his butt to him. No need to speak in code, Lar... we all saw the Serbian Gangster's superior performance.

Darko has both the talent and the willpower to get things on track in spite of his coach, and he has already begun to turn the corner. Watching him continue to persevere in the face of immense adversity is going to be a real treat, and DarkoRules plans to be there every step of the way.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

After sitting through Detroit's victories over the Hornets on Tuesday (96-86) and the Spurs on Thursday (83-68), Darko finally got to see his first 2006 court time last night, helping propel the Pistons to a 114-91 win over the Bobcats.

While Darko was only in the game for about six and a half minutes, he made the most of that brief amount of time by setting a new career high assist total of 3, one of which was off a nifty pass that had the Palace faithful buzzing. Great work.

An interesting couple of paragraphs about Darko showed up in the Charlotte Observer's gameday notes yesterday. First:

In his third NBA season, Darko Milicic is still seeing next to no playing time. In other words, the Pistons are getting nothing out of the No. 2 overall pick in the 2003 draft.

This comment is quite humorous, although it is probably unintentionally so. If the Pistons are getting nothing out of the arrangement, it is because they have chosen to get nothing out of it. They have simply not given Darko the opportunity to step up and do his thing. It is Darko, not the club, who is truly getting nothing out of being picked No. 2. He does not have the power to take any action to remedy the situation; the Pistons do.

After having read that quote, one might think that the Observer has a negative opinion of Darko as a baller, but that is not the case. From the very next paragraph:
Maybe the guy needs a new team -- like the Bobcats maybe?

The writer was very quick to downplay D-Mil's contribution in the first paragraph, but the true underlying desire to have Darko join the Bobcats came through loud and clear just a couple of sentences later. This attitude is very much consistent with the line of thinking that seems to exist among many NBA teams: Publicly pooh-pooh Darko in an attempt to lower his trade value, while secretly praying like heck that you can swoop in and take him on the cheap so that he can save your franchise. It is very much like a reverse pump-and-dump.

Perhaps a trade would actually be the best thing that could happen to Darko at this point. However, it's not very likely to happen anytime soon because Joe Dumars is very much aware of what a tremendous asset he has in DM. It's hard to imagine that any other NBA club could possibly come up with an attractive enough package to convince Dumars to ever part with Darko. In the meantime, it will be fun to watch what other silly actions/statements these clubs and their beat writers can come up with in trying to fool the sharpest GM in basketball.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Well, the Pistons have a win and a loss to show for their last two outings. Detroit defeated Seattle 97-85 last Friday and lost to Utah 94-90 in overtime on the following night. These two games were played on the Serbian Orthodox Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so coach Flip Saunders did what he thought was the right thing and gave young Darko Milicic both nights off. Realistically through, if Saunders were pure of heart, he would have realized that a much better Christmas gift would have been to actually give Darko a couple of starts.

Darko has now sat out for five straight games, and for eight of the last ten. In the two games he did play out of the last ten, he was only on the court for 2 minutes and 43 seconds in total. He has only played 112 minutes through the Pistons' first 31 games. At this pace, he will only play 296 minutes for the entire season, only marginally higher than the 254 minutes he received last season under Larry Brown! Ridiculous!

Are the benchings merited? Let's have a look at how Detroit has performed with and without the D-train to this point. In games in which Darko has not played, the Pistsons are a very respectable 10-3. However, in games in which Darko has received time on the floor, the team is an awesome 16-2!! If we were to ignore the 17 seconds that Darko played in a loss to Utah, those figures would be 10-4 (0.714) without Darko and 16-1 (0.941) with Darko! These statistics can likely be interpreted in any number of ways, but what is irrefutable is that the Pistons have a much, much, much better record in games in which DM has played than in games in which he has been benched!

So what is it that Darko brings to the table that makes the Pistons perform so much better? What Darko does goes well beyond the stat sheet. It even goes beyond the way that he skillfully clogs the lane and forces opposing teams' offenses to rely almost exclusively on their outside games. What Darko has is a certain intangible quality, a certain je ne sais quois, if you will, that is only possessed by the greatest of players. Darko's mere presence on the floor almost magically elevates the games of his teammates and makes the team almost unbeatable.

We have speculated in this space more than once on what the reasons may be beyond Darko's mysterious benchings and why they have been allowed to continue, to the detriment of the entire team and even to the city of Detroit, which loves Milicic. However, no concrete answers have yet been given and the entire situation remains enshrouded in mystery for whatever reason. We can only continue to hope that Joe Dumars the Good has something up his sleeve. Joe D, please don't let us down!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Orlando lost to the Pistons by a score of 108-99 on Tuesday night. Darko did not get out of his warmup suit for the 11th time this season.

Darko's situation has now exceeded all known levels of ridiculousness. Why is it that someone as insanely gifted as Milicic is still sitting on the bench? Let's take a moment to think things through here.

It is not as if Darko is not recognized as an incredible talent throughout the league. recently had a chat with John Hammond, VP of basketball operations. Here is what came out of it: "Hammond said a number of teams have called about Detroit players, most coming from teams interested in Milicic." In other words, NBA teams are breaking the door down trying to trick the Pistons into giving away Darko!

Hammond refers to Darko as a young big man who "has tremendous upside" and is a "valuable asset." So it is clear that the Pistons know what they have in Darko, but why is it that they have not been playing this valuable asset? Joe Dumars is no dummy and has surely noticed by now that Flip Saunders is up to no good. We here at DarkoRules suspect that Joe probably has some tricks up his sleeve.

It may well be the case that Joe is waiting until the end of the regular season to act. This is just conjecture at this point, but imagine if Joe waited until mid-April to finally get rid of Flip and then introduced Darko into the starting lineup for the playoffs? Such a move would confuse the heck out of the rest of the NBA teams, many of which have been drafting up plans for defeating Detroit in the playoffs. Introducing Darko at such a time would throw a huge monkeywrench into these plans, and these clubs would not have enough time to regroup. They would not know what hit them. The combination of Darko's talent with the element of surprise would likely lead to a second championship in three years.

Flip can have his fun for now with his silly little doghouse... but let's wait and see how much fun he will be having at season's end.

Monday, January 02, 2006

First thing is first. Happy New Year to everyone. Hopefully, everyone had a very enjoyable set of holidays and here's wishing all the best for 2006.

Now, back to business. On New Year's Eve, it was a match between the Number 1 and Number 2 picks of the 2003 NBA draft. Unfortunately, LeBron James had an easy time of things, leading Cleveland to a 97-84 victory over the Pistons, while Darko had a front row seat on the bench the whole time.

It would be very difficult at this point in time to argue that LeBron has not had a superior performance to that of Darko at this point in their careers. The fact that LeBron has been so great right out of the blocks has admittedly made Darko look fairly poor in comparison, but a number of outside factors must be taken into consideration.

LeBron is basically playing for his hometown team, having grown up in Akron, Ohio, only about 40 miles outside of Cleveland. Darko has had to move across the Atlantic Ocean to get from Serbia to Detroit. He is living in a foreign country and having to get by in a foreign language. While Darko is probably adjusting to the situation by now, these things do take time.

LeBron was already accustomed to a pro-type lifestyle well before he entered the NBA with tremendous hype and media members following him around everywhere. His mother bought him a new Hummer and he received complimentary clothing from local merchants. While Darko was playing professional basketball before he came to the NBA, it was fairly bare-bones in that it was low profile, his salary was modest and he was making do in a tiny apartment.

LeBron joined the Cavaliers, a horrible team on which there was no problem justifying a starting position for him right out of the gates. Darko joined a winning machine and, because of the Pistons' sustained success, has struggled to get more than a couple of minutes per game even to this day. LeBron has started in all 187 of the games in which he has played. Darko has been a starter in two games, and those were both at the end of the 2004-2005 regular season.

Let's not forget that it takes big seven-footers a fair amount of time longer on average to develop than it does 6'8" players. Combine this with the fact that Darko has played for a couple of head coaches who are dead-set against his development for whatever reason (all signs point to Darko being a colleratal victim in the power struggle between the evil Larry Brown and the angellic Joe Dumars), and it is not difficult to see why Darko's career has had a slow start.

What does all of this mean? LeBron is likely already near his peak. His play will likely plateau in the short term and stay at a similar level for the next decade or so. Boring. Darko? As great a player as he is today, his performance still has plenty of room to grow by leaps and bounds, and it almost certainly will grow by leaps and bounds. While Darko may never quite reach the same level as LeBron James, he will still be a superstar. People will eventually regret, and then forget, the "bust" label that has been placed on him.

Put your seatbelts on, Darko fans. We are in for a thrilling rocket ride soon. All we need is a bit more time.