Darko Milicic Buys into New Role with C's

WALTHAM, Mass. – Darko Milicic didn’t sign with the Boston Celtics until Sept. 28, the day the 2012-13 season officially began. At the time, his signing wasn’t a news item. It was deemed an irrelevant move by most NBA analysts.

Thirteen days later, chatter about his potential impact on the Celtics has replaced all of the jokes about irrelevance. He’s now being viewed as a valuable piece of Boston’s championship puzzle.

Darko Milicic

Darko Milicic has regularly been affecting shots at the defensive end of the floor.
David Dow/NBAE/Getty Images

That’s quite a change in less than two weeks, but the change is well deserved. Milicic has seemingly secured the role of backup center behind Kevin Garnett. That is, provided that he continues to perform at the level he has through two weeks of the preseason.

You may have missed the first two games of Boston’s preseason due to the team being overseas. If you did, you may not have heard that Milicic is tied for the team high in rebounding average with 7.5 RPG, is leading the team in blocks with six, and has often operated as a point-center out of the high post.

Notice the fact that scoring wasn’t mentioned in the paragraph above. Milicic has scored only four points in those two games, but the Celtics couldn’t care less. They don’t need him to be a dominant scoring threat off of the bench, and Milicic understands that.

“I know what my job is,” Milicic said on Thursday. “I’m not looking to go crazy on offense.”

Milicic’s ability to process that fact is both newsworthy to the basketball world and refreshing to him. He was not brought here to be the No. 2 pick in the draft, as he was on his first five NBA teams. Instead, he was acquired to be an important role player, which seems to be a much more comfortable situation for the largest man on Boston’s roster.

“We’re not asking him to go out and be (Kareem Abdul-)Jabar,” Doc Rivers joked. “We’re just asking him to help us win basketball games, and I think that’s helped him.”

When Milicic is running up and down the court alongside future Hall of Famers and other talented stars like Jason Terry and Jeff Green, it’s easy for him to help the C’s win basketball games. He looks relaxed and at ease around such great talent. Additionally, it sounds as if he’s at ease around his teammates off the court, too.

“He’s still very quiet, but off the court in Italy we were able to bond as a team and he was there,” Terry said. “If we hung out and ate dinner at night, he was with us. After practice, joking around, he’s with us. So that’s big and that’s key for us.”

Off-the-court success with the team is great, but what the Celtics need to win a championship is a successful Milicic on the court. It’s Rivers’ job to bring that out.

Rivers, a former champion and Coach of the Year, is known as a very influential figure in this league. His words and opinions matter to players, coaches and executives around the NBA. All indications are that Rivers’ words are already getting through to Milicic thanks in large part to giving the 26-year-old a finely defined role.

“Rebound. Be a great passer. Be a big body. Basically, that’s it,” Rivers said of Milicic’s expected role. “It’s a simple role, but it’s a hard role.”

Rivers continued, “We want him to be a superstar in his role, and if he does that, then that’s great for us. That makes us a winning team. “

We’re a long way from the Celtics being ridiculed by outsiders for signing the enigmatic big man from Serbia. That’s far enough in the past that it’s no longer in the rearview mirror.

Now we’re at a point where Rivers, one of the most respected coaches in the game, is talking about Milicic helping to make the Celtics a winning team.

That change took only 13 days. Just imagine where we might be by the end of the season.