10 July 2007

End of an Era, Such as it Was: Darko Milicic, Orlando Magic Part Ways

The Orlando Sentinel's Brian Schmitz reported earlier this afternoon that the Magic have broken off contract discussions with Marc Cornstein, who represents Magic free-agent Darko Milicic. The impasse ends any chance that Milicic will re-sign with the Magic.

"We've moved on and Darko's moved on," Magic General Manager Otis Smith said.
Moved on from what, exactly? Oh yeah, the idea that Milicic would pair with franchise cornerstone Dwight Howard to form the NBA's most formidable frontcourt since Robinson/Duncan and dominate the Eastern Conference for the next decade. They showed glimpses that it could be accomplished. Consider the Magic's defeat of the Chicago Bulls on February 26th of this year: Milicic and Howard combined for 35 points, 32 rebounds, and 7 blocked shots. The Bulls, as a team, had only 31 rebounds, making the duo's totals even more impressive.

Darko Milicic and Dwight Howard will never get the chance to dominate the East side-by-side.
Photo by Gary W. Green, Orlando Sentinel

Yeah, well so much for that.

I don't know what to make of Darko's time here. For every brilliant performance, like the one against Chicago to which I alluded, there was a boneheaded one, like the one against Toronto in which he played seven minutes, scored no points and was ejected after receiving his second technical foul for arguing a call made against him.

The fact that we paid a high price to acquire him only added to the frustration with his inconsistency: we gave up Kelvin Cato's valuable expiring contract and our first-round draft choice this season. The draft choice turned out to be two-guard Rodney Stuckey, who has played well in summer-league action. Along with Darko, we received point guard Carlos Arroyo.

Essentially, we Magic fans have to deal not only with our hypothetical questions, but also the fact that the team is now down a first-round draft pick in a talented draft class and $8 million -- the value of Cato's contract -- in cap space. The net return? A backup point guard whose contract will expire after one more season... at only $4 million.

If the Magic are unable to shore up the power-forward position, and/or Darko Milicic develops into an All-Star, Otis Smith is going to have a lot of explaining to do to Magic fans, who are no stranger to botched free-agency periods. But this is not the place for a discussion about Shaquille.

It's amazing how often I can run this picture and not have it lose its relevance.

When Grant Hill left, I wished him good luck; the team and the city got the chance to know him over the course of seven seasons. His reputation as a nice guy preceded him anyway. With Darko, I can't offer such wishes. It's not that I dislike him; it's just that he's as enigmatic a player as this team has ever had, and there's no telling what he wants.

And to tell you the truth, I don't think he knows either.

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