While some speculated that Darko Milicic, the former glued-to-the-bench Knick traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last year, would seek revenge in last night’s game, instead he showed maturity, acknowledging he was the problem, not Coach Mike D’Antoni. As the New York Post reported, he even gave helpful advice to the Knicks’ new Russian center Timofey Mozgov:
“I tell him to do the opposite like I did,” Milicic said. “I don’t know how it will be for him, if he plays a lot. When I didn’t play, I stepped aside. You need to work a lot and I didn’t do it. If he doesn’t play, practice hard.”
On one hand, it’s impressive that Darko not only was able to step back from the situation and honestly critique himself, but also that he was willing to reach out to assist one of our players. On the other hand, after he suffered through so many seasons on the Detroit Pistons where he didn’t get minutes partly due to not practicing hard and playing with fire, shouldn’t he have realized this long before he came to New York? If you’re not a key part of the rotation, so you sulk and go half-heartedly at practice, it ain’t surprising that you remain glued to the bench.
Still, it’s one thing for me to say this from afar, but when it’s happening to you, it’s hard to not have your emotion sapped. Like honestly, I’m always impressed when a really sucky team is still playing hard at the end of the season. I know, I know, we like to say, well, they’re getting paid big bucks, that’s not too much to ask. If you’re a younger player, sure, you’re still getting used to playing with the big boys and learning/improving your game, so that can/does give reason to play hard even towards the end. But if you’re a vet, do you really want to go all out and kill yourself just so you lose by fewer points? Or even if you win, big whoop, so then you’ve got 23 wins for the season instead of 22. Truth is, it’s probably better for your franchise if you’d lost ‘cuz it’d improve their draft position. Yes, it’s a depressing way to look at things, but I’m just playing devil’s advocate here.
Thus I can see if you’re a Darko or Eddy Curry and you feel like you’re in the doghouse and there’s no way to get out, what’s the point of practicing harder or putting in more effort if nothing will change? Of course, the truth is that things can change. And for Curry I can understand why he wouldn’t have been motivated in earlier years, but as I wrote a little while ago, since he’s up for a new contract this season, I would’ve thought that’d be a motivator even if you don’t think it’ll help your chances of getting playing time.
The point is it’s still impressive to get past yourself and see objectively at any point. Thus it was also really cool that Darko came up to D’Antoni and his brother Dan (an assistant coach) before the game to make amends.
“I said ‘It didn’t work out,’” Milicic said. “I wished it worked out. I loved New York. I thought it was going to work out but when I got there and saw how it was going to be it wasn’t for me. For me, last year I needed a lot of playing time to get my confidence back. Here it’s different, this year I came in shape.”
Better to learn the lesson late than never. And for the first time in a while, I find myself wishing the best for Darko on the rest of his NBA journey.