WALTHAM, Mass. — Doc Rivers saw a change in Darko Milicic a few weeks ago, almost as soon as the veteran center found out that his mother was ill. It was one thing for Milicic to deal with some professional setbacks with the Celtics, having played a grand total of five minutes all season. Adding personal angst made it even tougher.
“His mom’s sick. He’s not playing. The homesickness — it happens,” the Celtics coach said Tuesday. “I didn’t fight him much. I told him he’s got to do what he thinks is right, and I’m going to support him one way or the other. But it’s been going on for a little bit now.”
Milicic opted to return to Europe to be with his mother, raising the possibility that this could be the end of the road for the former No. 2 overall draft pick — not just with the Celtics, but with the NBA itself. Rivers did not discourage that line of thinking when he was asked if Milicic plans to return to Boston.
“It doesn’t look like it,” Rivers said.
If Milicic indeed is finished, it would bring to an end one of the most discouraging careers in NBA history. Billed as a can’t-miss prospect as an 18-year-old out of Serbia, Milicic was chosen second in the 2003 NBA draft — after LeBron James but before Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, as well as future All-Star David West, future Sixth Man of the Year Leandro Barbosa and several other players who went on to productive professional careers.
Milicic hardly got off the bench as a rookie with the Pistons, who went on to win the NBA championship by beating the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. In 10 seasons, Milicic averaged 6.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game with the Pistons, Magic, Grizzlies, Knicks, Timberwolves and Celtics.
Within moments of the news breaking Monday that Milicic would leave the team, Celtics fans on Twitter began clamoring for team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to sign Kenyon Martin. Martin, who turns 35 years old on Dec. 30, appeared in 42 games last season with the Los Angeles Clippers but is currently unsigned.
The Celtics have no quick moves in the works, however.
“No rush,” Rivers said. “I can tell you we’re in no rush.”
Milicic did not get much of a chance to contribute to the Celtics this season, but hopefully that does not keep Boston fans from wishing him and his mother the best. Some things are more important than basketball.
Photo via Facebook/Darko Milicic