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.


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