Darko Milicic seems to wish it worked out with Orlando Magic

Dec 14, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA;LA Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) and Orlando Magic forward Serge Ibaka (7) tip off during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 14, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA;LA Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) and Orlando Magic forward Serge Ibaka (7) tip off during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Darko Milicic is a great disappointment in NBA history. But his year and a half with the Orlando Magic was largely a success. A success he wished continued.

The Orlando Magic were seemingly a listless team in the spring of 2006.

The team had won 36 games the year before after trading Tracy McGrady for Steve Francis and drafting a rookie Dwight Howard. Grant Hill was healthy and the team had a young Hedo Turkoglu, but never put all the pieces together. The Magic, despite a killer defense, were on the outside of the Playoff picture.

It was clear too in the 2006 season, the Magic were not getting any better. Or not getting signficantly better. Jameer Nelson was pushing Steve Francis for more playing time and the mercurial star was becoming a bigger and bigger problem.

The Magic were looking for an opportunity to clear some cap room and improve the team’s Playoff hopes. They knew, two years into Dwight Howard’s career, they would have to make progress soon.

They took a risk of sorts in shipping out often-injured big man Kelvin Cato as part of a reformation of the team midseason. Orlando acquired another mercurial big man in Darko Milicic.

Milicic had one label following him everywhere he went — his second overall selection in the 2003 Draft, ahead of Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh among others. Milicic failed to live up to those expectations — or contribute much of anything for the Detroit Pistons.

In a recent interview with Serbian news site B92.net — and translations from NBA Reddit and Ben Rohrback of Yahoo! Sports — Milicic reflected on the entirety of his NBA career. He mentioned he was probably not mentally prepared for the league and probably a little too high on his own abilities.

His personality and the NBA culture did not mix and the Pistons burying him on the bench probably did not help. He certainly did not handle it well.

There was one bright spot in his career, though. His year and a half with the Magic.

After Orlando acquired him, the team went 17-14 the rest of the season including winning 16 of the team’s final 22 games to make a late Playoff push. It was a sign of things to come with Nelson at the helm and Howard and Milicic manning the paint.

Milicic averaged 7.9 points per game and 5.1 rebounds per game in his first meaningful minutes in 110 games. The Magic made the Playoffs in 2007 and were back on the right track as Milicic entered free agency.

Milicic seemed to believe he found a group that could work for him and believed he could pair well with Dwight Howard. He thought he would have a future in Orlando. It seemed like he would carve out a role on an up-and-coming NBA team.

But it never came to be.

"I really enjoyed it there since Day 1. Physically I was fresh since I haven’t really played for 3 years. Unfortunately, the coach just didn’t see me and Dwight playing together although I thought it could easily work out. He’d stuff the paint, I’d be a threat from outside, it would’ve been great. I had some nice games in a year and a half there, so I was expecting some nice offers. No offers came, though, since everyone was thinking I had mental issues and was a risk. That’s where I got disappointed even more. The only thing I told my manager was I’ll go anywhere but Memphis, just don’t send me to Memphis."

Milicic did sign with the Memphis Grizzlies and his career went on a downward trajectory. The only high in Milicic’s brief career came in Orlando. And it seems, in reflecting on his career, Milicic is genuinely regretful he did not get the opportunity to stay in Orlando.

In his lone full season with the Magic, he and Howard posed a formidable front court duo. The Magic’s defense was sixth in the league that year as the Magic returned to the Playoffs as the eighth seed.

But Orlando was moving in a different direction. Stan Van Gundy came in. And the team had cleared cap room to go after a big fish. That big fish turned into Rashard Lewis, and the rest is history.

Milicic will remain one of the great what-if stories in NBA history. He had tremendous talent, but he never could put it together — a combination of falling to the wrong team and playing the wrong role and his own youthful exuberances.

The Magic gave him a second chance and he seemed to be thriving. Then it suddenly stopped.

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There is a happy ending to this story, I suppose. Milicic returned home to Serbia where he is living a quiet life as a farmer.