Wolves Plan to Re-Sign Darko Milicic
Milicic, 24, joined the Wolves last month in a trade from the Knicks, the fourth team in the league to give up on him, despite having all the physical skills to be a productive NBA center.
At 7-0 and 245 pounds, Milicic has been labeled a bust since coming into the NBA with Detroit as the No. 2 pick in the 2003 Draft – ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – but he may have found his NBA home in Minnesota.
"He has provided us with something we sorely needed. He has the height and size and mobility,'' Wolves coach Kurt Rambis told FanHouse Friday. "He can play well at both ends of the floor. He gives us what we need at center. We've shown him that he could fit in well here.''
The Wolves have been using Milicic in an intriguing front-court rotation with Al Jefferson, 25, and Kevin Love, 21. Both are better suited to be power forwards, but both had been playing some center before Milicic arrived.
Rambis is the one who pushed the front-office to take Milicic from New York, even though the Knicks had soured on him. Rambis made it clear he wants him back next season. And a Timberwolves source confirmed their plans to try and re-sign him this summer.
Despite their opinion of him, the Timberwolves (14-58) remain stuck in a downward spiral, losing their 15th consecutive game Friday night, 106-97, to the Magic. They have won only one game since Milicic arrived from New York, which shows how desperate they have become.
As one of the youngest teams in the league, Minnesota believes that Milicic can develop playing alongside Jefferson and Love. Rambis wants a high-post center who can pass and shoot, which is what Milicic does best.
Milicic started his 10th game this month Friday night against the Magic – one of his former teams – and showed why the Wolves still are intrigued by him. In the first half, he had 10 points and four assists, scoring over Dwight Howard twice, then taking a charge from Howard at the other end. He also made a few nifty passes.
In the past, the knock against him always has been his lack of intensity and his reluctance to accept the physical part of the NBA game, often to the point of disinterest. That hasn't been a concern with the Wolves, who already are engulfed in a culture of losing.
Milicic has averaged 23.7 minutes. 6.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists in Minnesota. He has played at least 27 minutes in each of the last five games. He had 16 points, 12 rebounds and 3 assists in 28 minutes against the Lakers. He finished with 14 points and four rebounds Friday.
Milicic, who is from Serbia-Montenegro, had said earlier this season in New York that this would be his last NBA season before returning to Europe to play.
He had grown increasingly frustrated after the Knicks had buried him on the end of the bench, which also had happened earlier in his career in Detroit. He was 17 years old and playing in Yugoslavia when the Pistons originally drafted him.
His tone about leaving for Europe has changed dramatically since coming to Minnesota, and he said Friday that returning to the Wolves next season was looking more likely.
"This is a good thing for me here right now. I think me and Al (Jefferson) can work well together next season,'' he told FanHouse Friday. "I've always just wanted the chance to play, and play the right way. It looks like I can get that here. They trust me. If they are going to play me this much, and have any kind of goals to be a winning team, then I would like to come back.''
The Wolves are hoping they hit bottom this season, and hoping that Milicic will be part of the turnaround next fall. They will have at least two – and probably three – first-round draft choices in June. They also are expected to have $15-$20 million of salary cap space to chase free agents. Among this free agent class, there are not many quality centers, which is another reason the Wolves will try and re-sign Milicic. They are hoping to spend much of their cap space on a wing player.
"We've told him, 'Don't judge us on what happened in your NBA past.' Make your decision based on us,'' Rambis said. "Do you like the system? Which he does. Do you like playing with these guys? And he does. He has to make that decision (if he wants to play in the NBA). I think he fits well with us.''