The Darko Milicic Kool-Aid, Strong Once Again
But methinks Minneapolis has rewound the clock seven years, or something. Darko, traded to the Timberwolves in February, has started 16 of 21 games in Minnesota. The Wolves have gone 1-15 in those games. Darko has averaged 11.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 2.6 assists and 1.7 turnovers per 36 minutes since the trade. These aren't bad numbers, a bit better than those of Ryan Hollins, who started 27 games for Minnesota this season. But -- and again, remember that the Wolves are 2-19 overall and 1-15 in Darko's starts -- do the results inspire the kind of praise being doled out in the Twin Cities?
General manager David Kahn and coach Kurt Rambis have intimated how pleased they have been with Darko since his first practice, and despite the continued losing and the middling production, that sentiment has remained. Rambis told Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune Darko has proved power forwards Al Jefferson and Kevin Love -- who happen to be Minnesota's best two players by far -- cannot play together. Kahn echoes the sentiment, but adds that doesn't mean Jefferson or Love must be traded, just that sacrifices in playing time must be made. In other words: Darko is good enough to relegate Love to the bench permanently, unless Jefferson or Love gets traded.
Love, of course, is the best big man of his draft class of 2008, the second-best rebounder in the entire NBA as a rookie, and the fourth-best among all players with at least 1,500 minutes this season. Expand that subset to all players with at least 500 minutes this season, and Love drops to sixth. Where does Darko pop up? Oh, there he is ... the league's 90th best rebounder this season, wedged between Yi Jianlian and Nenad Krstic.
Rebounding's just part of the game, of course. But Love is far better than Darko on offense, and for all Milicic's supposed defensive abilities, the team has continued to allow opponents to score at will since the Darko ascension. If Milicic made a real, measurable difference for this team on defense, sacrificing Love's playing time might be the right thing to do. But, while the team stunk with Jefferson and Love starting together, it stinks now! Worse! And Love is being wasted playing only 29 minutes a game. The cards are stacked against Kahn and Rambis already; this Darko adoration at Love's expense is just making things more difficult.
Kahn crows a bit in Zgoda's piece about the cap space he's opened up, with Rambis jumping in to remind us free agents chase money, which Minnesota will have this summer. Until, of course, the team blows it all on this bad Darko dream. I'm starting to believe Milicic's aura is more special than that. Shouldn't Chad Ford be held responsible for all this somehow?