(OK, I know we've gone awfully heavy on the Darko Milicic news lately, and I promise you the end is in sight, but just bear with me a little while longer.)
I was always struck by how so many Pistons players steadfastly defended Darko's talent to the press during his time in Detroit. Even though he's moved on to Orlando, their support hasn't wavered. Just check out some of the quotes below.
From the Ann Arbor News/Booth Newspapers:
"Darko can play," said Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace. "He's going to have the last laugh with it. He can shoot, he got some post-up moves, runs the floor pretty good and remember, he's only 20 years old. People who call him a bust ... but he's going to have the last laugh. Darko is all right."
From Florida Today:
"I know Darko pretty well, and he really wants to go out there and prove himself to everybody," Ben Wallace said. "He's ready to show everybody that he can play in this league. And I think he'll do well in Orlando."
No one excused Darko's lack of effort, but his former head coach at least appears sympathetic:
"I think it was more the frustration building up because he couldn't see any light at the end of the tunnel and wondered when he'd ever play," Detroit head coach Flip Saunders said. "When that happens, it becomes difficult to ever get motivated.
"He had to feel like it was Groundhog Day, waking up every day and it was the same. That's why the change will be good for him."
Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton seem optimistic that Darko's increased playing time will help him develop:
"I saw Darko get better and make improvements the last couple of years, but just as he started getting better, he'd get frustrated and become disinterested because the opportunity to play wasn't there," Billups said. "Hopefully, that improvement will show now because you know he's going to play in Orlando."
Added Richard Hamilton: "Some guys learn better by watching and some learn by playing. The guy just needs to get out there and play. Now he doesn't have to worry about waiting and he can show everybody he can play."
And Joe Dumars admits that in the long run, the Pistons may regret missing out on the opportunity to truly develop Darko:
Dumars predicted it won't come as surprise to him if Milicic eventually blossoms into the kind of player who makes the Pistons regret trading him.
"Make no mistake, we're going to look up and see some 18-point, 10-rebound, four-block nights from Darko at some point," Dumars told reporters in Detroit.
I can't promise that we won't comment on Darko's first couple of games with the Magic (and things will probably get completely out of hand come April 7 when the Pistons travel to Orlando to face the Magic), but for now the overwhelming tide of Darko news should recede.
UPDATE: The Free Press had another good quote from Chauncey:
"He's very skilled," point guard Chauncey Billups said. "Very skilled. He's got a good opportunity. The only thing that I was ever frustrated with was when he was on the floor and he just looked like he didn't care. He looked a little disinterested. At the same time, I understood that as well because he wasn't getting an opportunity to play."