Auburn Hills — Piston fans need to get over Darko Milicic.
It happened. It is done with.
There is a good chance that the Pistons are going to pick 6-foot-7 shooting guard Mario Hezonja. He did not play at Duke or Michigan State. He is not from California or New York. He is from Croatia, which strikes fear into Piston fans. And many have lashed out on social media about the possibility.
Milicic was the second pick in the 2003 NBA draft.
That draft produced LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Even the Pistons' 25th pick, Carlos Delfino, was more productive than Milicic. Other teams used that draft to jump-start their franchises. The Pistons were left with table scraps because Milicic was nothing more than a nice role player. The only consolation is the Pistons won a title that season, no thanks to Milicic.
He played in 96 games over three seasons for the Pistons and averaged 1.6 points a game. Then he bounced to the Orlando Magic, Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics.
The Pistons were fooled by a player who looked good in workouts but did not play well in games. President Joe Dumars was fooled by the buzz of other GMs who praised him and said they wanted him.
Let me tell you a story. I'd kept in contact with a guy from Spain named Jesemi. He loved basketball and he loved the Bad Boys Pistons. He heard rumors of the Pistons wanting to draft Milicic and he wrote me a series of emails telling me that the guy couldn't play. The buzz in Europe was that the entire NBA was being fooled. He could not guard the post. He could not go inside and his outside shot was nowhere near that of Dirk Nowitzki's, the man some compared him to.
He wanted me to tell Dumars not to draft him.
During a pre-draft event at The Palace, I told Dumars what this guy said.
"Who is this guy?" he asked.
I passed along his email address.
I wish he had listened because the Pistons lacked information.
No one says that about Hezonja. The dude can play. He is a streaky shooter, but when he is on the guy is amazing. He is also athletic enough to attack the rim, and Andre Drummond won't be the only one getting alley opp dunk setups from point guard Reggie Jackson.
Am I 100 percent certain on this guy? No. But none of the red flags are up yet.
The thing you will need to do, if the Pistons draft him, is be patient. The kid is a bit of a head case and screams at teammates because he wants perfection. I am sure there are enough Piston players to put him in his place if he gets out of line.
The days of the soft, can't-play European player are done. This league has produced Tony Parker (France), Nowitzki (Germany), Marcin Gortat (Poland), Pau and Marc Gasol (Spain).
The Pistons even had quality foreign players. Mehmet Okur played on that championship team, and the Pistons were hurt long term because they could not sign him when he became a free agent.
Pistons general manager Jeff Bower won't back away from a foreign player. He believes the Pistons are armed with more information today than when Dumars made the pick 12 years ago.
"In today's day in age the difference between the ACB league in Spain and the ACC is access to the information to those leagues is very, very similar," Bower said.
"We have the ability to go back and play and watch them play and have a deeper body of work for evaluations. The unknown has shrunk in many ways in comparison to five years ago and certainly 10 years ago."
If the Pistons are scared off by Hezonja, they are a likely candidate to trade down. My guess is they take the kid and would only trade down if he is not there.
"I don't think most fans care where the player is from. They just want them to be able to help your team," Bower said.