The Tao of Darko: Why can't he help the Celtics?

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The Tao of Darko: Why can't he help the Celtics?

On October 30, short of injury or international incident, Darko Milicic will become the sixth Top 2 NBA pick to play for the Celtics in last the 20 years.

Thats very likely the most random sentence youll read all week, but just for fun, in the name of randomness, can you name the other five?

Once again, were looking for five players who were drafted either first or second overall, and played for Boston sometime between 1992 and Game 7 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals

Ill give you a few minutes to think.

OK, so in chronological order of their Celtics debut, weve got . . .

Pervis Ellison: The No. 1 pick in the 1989 Draft, Big Perv played in Boston from 1995-2000. He was often injured, appearing in only 69 games over his last three seasons with the Cs, but to Ellisons credit, his hair was always stupendous.

Kenny Anderson: The No. 2 pick in the 1991 Draft, Anderson played four seasons for the Celtics (1998-2002). The Green didnt get the best years of Kennys career, but he still played a key role in Bostons run to the 2002 Conference Finals and single-handedly kept at least four local Bentley dealerships in business.

Gary Payton: The No. 2 pick in the 1990 Draft spent the 2005 season in Boston. The Glove averaged 11.3 points and 6.1 assists per game, and is still the only player in Celtics history to be traded for, then traded and then signed as a free agent in the same season. I think.

Michael Olowokandi: The No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 Draft, the Kandi Man was a smooth criminal who dominated the paint in Boston from 2005-2007.

And finally, Shaquille ONeal: The No. 1 pick in the 1992 Draft, ONeals Celtics career spanned a mighty 37 games, and he once posed as a statue in Harvard Square.

In the words of Tony Kornheiser: Thats it. Thats the list. And while on the surface, these five guys have little to no connection aside from similar draft position and mostly forgettable stints with the Cs, their respective careers pretty much run the gamut of reality when it comes to Top 2 picks.

First, theres Shaq, arguably one of the Top 10 players in NBA history, and easily one of the most dominant. Hes your best-case scenario right up until he signs with the Lakers.

A stepmany steps below Shaq, theres Payton a future Hall of Famer; one of the greatest point guards, competitors and all-around defenders of his era. The Glove never won a title on his own, but snagged a late ring off the bench for the 2006 Heat.

Beneath Payton, albeit significantly, theres Anderson. Kenny (along with Derrick Coleman, although it didn't help that they lost Drazen Petrovic) never fulfilled expectations in New Jersey, but he still had a respectable career. Anderson averaged 17.8 points and 8.8 assists from 1992-97, and averaged double figures for eight straight years (1992-2000). He never won anything, and should never be mentioned in the same breath as Payton, but you can do a lot worse than Kenny Anderson with a Top 2 pick.

For instance, Pervis Ellison, who averaged 20 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks a game in 1992 on his way to winning the NBAs Most Improved Player award but then saw his career derailed by injury (knee and otherwise). He played more than 60 games only once over his final eight seasons, and finished with career averages of 9.5 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. (However, by all accounts, he was never nervous.)

And finally, theres the Kandi Man. Olowokandi wasnt quite as bad as history will remember. A major project coming out of Pacific, he averaged 8.6 points, eight rebounds and 1.6 blocks over his first four seasons with the Clippers. He also played in more games and registered more career minutes than Ellison while struggling through a similar array of knee injuries. But the Kandi Mans career (perhaps due in large part to his association with the Clippers and the fact that his nickname was The Kandi Man) will always be a much more powerful punch line. His name is forever synonymous with NBA bust.

There are obviously many more intermediate levels on the spectrum of Top 2 picks, but Id say that these five guys have you pretty much covered from top to bottom . . .

And that brings us back to Darko.

As I type, Milicic's legacy is cemented within the depths of Kandi Land. He's an absolute bust. Not only when compared to the players he was drafted in front of (Melo, DWade, Chris Bosh), but by any standard of measure in NBA Draft history. Over nine NBA seasons, he's averaged six points and 4.2 rebounds a game. He's failed at five different stops (Detroit, Orlando, Memphis, New York and Minnesota) along his NBA trail.

Over that time, on top of his minimal production, Darko's also become a very angry man. A man you might not want hanging around your team. A man who once publicly threatened to have sex with a referee's mother (and daughter!) after Serbia was knocked out of the 2007 FIBA World Championship.

He's really become the total package.

Yet, here we are or most of us, at least two games into the Celtics preseason, and feeling like Darko Milicic has finally found a home in Boston. We're thinking and saying the same things they did at various points in Detroit, Orlando, Memphis, New York and Minnesota, before the crap hit the fan and Darko was off to his next endeavor.

We've heard the stories. We know the background. Yet, after two measly preseason games, we're starting to believe in Darko Milicic.

Why?

First, because unlike Ellison and Olowokandi, injuries have never been a major issue for Darko at least nothing that's affected him in the long term. Maybe that's because he's still only 27 (basically only a year older than Rondo), but whatever the reason, Darko's still every bit the physical specimen he was when came into the league. If anything, his presence is more imposing now than it's ever been. He might be one of the strongest, most immovable objects in the league.

Aside from his size, it's also clear that Darko understands the game. He might not be able to execute it all the time, but unlike some past Celtics back-up centers (aka Mikki Moore and Ryan Hollins), Milicic has a brain.

Take this pass in the Celtics first game against Fenerbahce Ulker:

That's a smart, heady play. If Rondo had done that, it would have been on Plays of the Week. Sure, it's just one little tip pass, but it displayed a level of basketball instinct that you don't see every day in seven-footers. And while we obviously have to factor in the competition, Darko also proved to be an aggressive rebounder and solid post defender during EuroCeltics action.

Finally, you're not worried about him being a locker room cancer, because that's just not possible. You really think the Celtics are going to allow their ninth man, who's playing for the veteran minimum, to have any negative effect on what they're trying to do?

The second that Darko becomes a legitimate issue off the court (that is, if he ever does), one of two things will happen.

1) The Celtics will show him the door, regardless his guaranteed contract. Worst-case scenario, they put him on the inactive list with a BS back injury and pay for his flight back to Serbia.

2. He's mauled to death by Kevin Garnett.

Take your pick, but know that Darko is not going to kill this team's chemistry.

We put all that optimism together and can't help but ask the question:

Why can't Darko help the Celtics this year?

Why can't he come off the bench for 13-15 minutes a night, rebound, protect the middle, block some shots, bust some heads and make Boston a better team?

It all comes down to managing expectations.

There's no doubt that much of Darko's anger stems from the belief that he never got a fair chance in the NBA: "I've said it 10,000 times, the best way for me to improve is to play. All the work in practice and individual workouts can only help me so much," he said during his time in Detroit. There's no doubt that he's been affected by all the noise surrounding his standing among some of the biggest busts in NBA history.

But now that he's on the Celtics, Milicic needs to understand that no one cares.

He's not the Celtics problem. They didn't waste a Top 3 pick or ruin their cap to bring him on board. As for as Boston's concerned, he's a nameless seven footer, playing for the veteran minimum, who can rebound, block shots and just happens to be built like an African elephant.

"Our thing right now with Darko is to play forward," Doc Rivers said last week. "From being around for a short time, as a coach I can probably feel he's played his career backwards. He lives in the past a lot and we're trying to get him to live in the future."

That's all it is.

Despite a career filled with untapped potential and unmet expectations, Darko needs to let go and come to grips with the fact that it's over. For the first time in his career, there are no lofty expectations. Only a modest role, befit of an average NBA center. It's no longer about where he falls on the spectrum of Top 2 NBA picks, it's how he fits within the fabric of this Celtics team.

And right now, on paper, it looks like he might fit in pretty well.

Just because he was a miserable No. 2 pick doesn't mean he can't be a quality back-up center.

But he has to allow himself to get there.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Brown taking opportunities with Celtics as they come

Brown taking opportunities with Celtics as they come

BOSTON -- Compared to most high draft picks, Jaylen Brown doesn’t log a ton of minutes for the Boston Celtics.
 
Playing on an experienced team with legit hopes of making a deep playoff run, rookies seeing limited minutes is a given.
 
Knowing playing time will come in a limited supply, Brown understands all too well the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity he gets on the floor.
 
He did just that on Saturday in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia, and he hopes to do more of the same on Monday when the Celtics take on the Houston Rockets.
 
When you look at Brown’s stat line, nothing about it looks impressive. He played 15 minutes, scored two points with one rebound and one blocked shot.
 
But beyond the stats was the fact that he was on the floor for seven minutes in the fourth quarter in a close back-and-forth game on the road. Rookies on the floor in crunch time is not the norm in the NBA.
 
“It means a lot,” Brown told reporters after Saturday’s win. “I try to be as best I can be for my team; try to put my best foot forward every night out.”
 
And he did just that on Saturday.
 
In the fourth quarter with the Celtics leading 87-83, Brown blocked a Gerald Henderson shot that wound up in the hands of Jae Crowder. Moments later, Jonas Jerebko hit a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics their largest lead of the game, 90-83.
 
And just two minutes prior to the blocked shot, he was out in transition following an Isaiah Thomas steal and threw down a dunk that pushed Boston’s lead to 86-83 with 7:11 to play.
 
Brown acknowledged making the most of those opportunities bodes well for him and the franchise.
 
“It’s great for our team in general; not just for me,” Brown said. “Those plays helped us to pull the game out in the end. So I’m glad we got the win. I think we should have played a little better than we did.”
 
The continued pursuit of self-improvement is a hallmark of what Brown’s focus and desire are at this stage of his pro career. He has talked often about not wanting to be just one of the best in this draft class but also one of the best in the NBA overall.
 
But he’s also learned that to get there takes time and experience developing both physically and mentally. Part of that mental growth entails having the right approach to games.
 
“Usually you try to tell yourself not to mess up,” Brown said. “Now that I’m getting more comfortable, it’s just play basketball, bring energy, things like that; come out and do what you’re supposed to do. A lot of times you try to tell yourself to not mess up and it’s counteractive; just come out and play basketball and have fun.”
 
And by doing so the minutes will come.
 
“You can’t control that. I just have to control what I can control,” Brown said. “I trust coach (Brad Stevens); I trust my coaching staff. I have to come out and in the minutes I get, play my hand as best I can and take advantage of what I do get and impact this team as much as possible.”
 
This season, Brown is averaging 4.8 points, 2.0 rebounds while shooting 41.9 percent from the field.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

MORE ON CELTICS-SIXERS

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”