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Chauncey Billups literally had to teach Darko Milicic how to shower

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Darko Milicic – drafted between LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane – is one of the biggest busts in NBA history.

An 18-year-old Darko clearly wasn’t ready to join the Pistons, who got the No. 2 pick in 2003 due to a trade years prior and were already thinking championship by the time they drafted him. That’s a big “what if?” of Darko’s career: What if he were drafted by a bad team better-suited to developing him?

But it would have taken a lot for any team to acclimate Darko to the NBA.

Sam Borden of ESPN:

By the time scouts started coming around, Darko saw the NBA as a way out — of financial insecurity, of persistent tumult, of Serbia — more than any kind of childhood fantasy coming true. He liked the game enough. Everyone he met was rooting for him to go. It was all right there in front of him. And who hasn’t walked through a door simply because it was open?

The problem is that wasn’t the narrative we expect from foreign basketball players. We expect them to love the NBA, to have grown up watching it on choppy internet streams or satellite television, to cherish its players and aspire to its trappings. When Yao Ming came to the NBA from China, he made no secret of his longtime adoration of Arvydas Sabonis and Hakeem Olajuwon; more recently, Kristaps Porzingis, a Latvian, made it clear that Dirk Nowitzki was his inspiration, and everyone nodded.

So, as soon as Darko began to get some attention in the U.S., the expected questions began: “Who was your idol? Who did you love to watch?

Kevin Garnett, Darko answered. He told everyone that Garnett, a tall power forward with a wingspan wider than a school bus, was his muse. He told local television stations he liked Garnett. He told USA Today he liked Garnett. He told ESPN he liked Garnett.

Except he had barely seen Garnett play. “I just sort of found him and decided he’s the one,” Darko says now. “It seemed like the player I was supposed to like.”

Darko would go home to shower after practices or games instead of staying in the locker room to clean up; he didn’t realize that in America, the players all showered together.

“So I had to teach Darko,” says Chauncey Billups, who played in Detroit from 2002-08, “like, no, when we’re done playing, when we’re done practicing, you put your towel on and you go get in the shower. That’s what we do here.”

There was wall punching. There was also drinking, and Darko began showing up to practice still tipsy after an overnight bender. “I just wouldn’t sleep,” he says.

It didn’t get much better from there – Darko burning through the Magic, Grizzlies, Knicks, Timberwolves and Celtics before retiring.

How has Darko coped with his failed (failed?) career? I highly suggest reading Borden’s article in full for a compelling accounting of the tale.

Report: Chris Paul demanded trade after Rockets’ second round loss

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Things apparently aren’t as bad as they have seemed recently between James Harden and Chris Paul.

They’re worse.

Paul demanded a trade after the Rockets’ playoff exit because that relationship couldn’t be salvaged, Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports reports.

Paul went to Rockets management and demanded a trade, and Harden issued a “him or me” edict following the Rockets’ second-round loss to the Golden State Warriors, sources said.

The backcourt mates went nearly two months without speaking to each other during the season, sources said, creating a tenuous environment for teammates and everyone involved with the franchise…

“There’s no respect at all, on either side,” a source told Yahoo Sports. “They need to get away from one another. Chris doesn’t respect James’ standing in the league, and James doesn’t respect the work Chris has put in to this point.”

Paul is not easy to play with, just ask Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan. Paul is one of the highest IQ and most competitive players in the league, but that leads him to be relentless on teammates, continually pushing and correcting them, and that led to tension in Los Angeles.

Harden, who is the reigning MVP and finished second two of the previous three years (and that likely will be three-of-four after this year’s results are released), is a guy who is not going to put up with that.

At the heart of the issue is style: James Harden dominates the ball and likes to work in isolation, Chris Paul prefers a more fluid offense. Coach Mike D’Antoni, the guy who does not have a contract beyond next season (extension talks faltered), gives a lot of leeway to Harden. Paul, among other players, complained to D’Antoni about that. Nothing changed.

As a tandem they have made the Rockets the second best team in the West for two years running, and if not for CP3’s hamstring injury in 2018 they might both have rings. Do the injuries to Kevin Durant (who might leave the Warriors anyway) and Klay Thompson change their perception and approach to this relationship? Together they are a serious threat to win a ring.

There’s also the practical matter: Trading Paul is going to be very difficult and might require the Rockets to throw a sweetener (a pick or young player) in the deal to get it done. It’s not that CP3 is terrible — he averaged 15.6 points and 8.2 assists per game last season, and he remains the best floor general in the game — but he is 34-years-old, lost a step last season, has an injury history (he played 58 games last season), and most importantly is owed $124 million fully guaranteed over the next three seasons. That’s a lot of money to take on.

The Rockets have talked to teams seeking a point guard (Phoenix, for example) but sources have said there has been little traction on any deal.

Just as the door to the Finals through the West swings wide open, the Rockets are stumbling and may not be able to walk through it.

Report: Knicks, who have No. 3 pick, to work out Darius Garland

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Duke forward R.J. Barrett is the consensus No. 3 prospect in the upcoming NBA draft. He wants to join the Knicks. The Knicks have the No. 3 pick.

Perfect match?

Maybe not.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

Maybe this is just New York doing its due diligence. The Knicks could also be trying to drum up trade interest among teams that want Garland.

But this feels a little like 2015, when Jahlil Okafor was the consensus No. 2 prospect for most of the pre-draft process but D'Angelo Russell emerged late as the Lakers’ No. 2 pick.

Barrett is a flawed prospect. He didn’t hit jumpers efficiently at Duke. His decision-making is suspect. He’s too left-handed dominant. He rarely uses his defensive tools. There’s a lot to like, to be sure. Barrett has nice size, athleticism and physicality. He’s a good ball-handler and playmaker. He seems built for a leading role.

But it wouldn’t shock me if a team likes Garland more. The point guard is a knockdown shooter with the ball-handling and footwork to get that shot off. He needs work as a distributor and lacks Barrett’s defensive potential.

Garland might not be as good as Barrett right now. But Garland’s path to success might be a little more projectable.

Harrison Barnes declining $25,102,512 player option with Kings

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Harrison Barnes‘ salary was so high, he became a talking point in the debate about WNBA salaries.

But he’s so confident he’ll get a better deal, he’s leaving $25,102,512 on the table with the Kings.

James Ham of NBC Sports California:

If they renounce all their free agents, the Kings project to have about $60 million in cap space – likely more than they know what do with.

They could re-sign Barnes. By trading for him last year, they indicated they value him more than the rest of the league does.

Even if he settles for a lower salary next season than his player option called for, this could be the 27-year-old Barnes’ opportunity to secure a long-term deal. He’s a solid outside shooter and, even if he’s better at power forward, capable of playing small forward in a league thirsty for wings.

Sacramento could definitely use a player like him.

Can the Kings lure someone better, either this summer or – if they keep their books clean – a future year? Unless way overpaid, free agents have tended to avoid Sacramento. But the rapidly improving De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield are leading a turnaround.

Barnes’ free agency could be a good litmus test for the Kings’ reputation now. Can they convince him to continue his role on a rising team? Will they have to pay a premium to keep him? Or does he just want to leave?

Report: Anthony Davis intends to receive full trade bonus

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The Lakers are reportedly on track to trade for Anthony Davis on July 6 – the date an important distinction in determining the Lakers’ cap space.

The other key question: Will Davis take his full $4,063,953 trade bonus?

The Pelicans will pay the bonus. It will count against the Lakers’ cap.

Especially considering Davis requested a trade, New Orleans could have pressed him to waive the trade bonus in order to accommodate him. Likewise, the Lakers – his desired team – could have made the deal contingent on Davis waiving the trade bonus.

Ramona Shelburne on ESPN:

My understanding is he doesn’t intend to waive that. He’s due the four million dollars, and he’s going to keep it. But again, as you just noted in that monologue, things can change.

If he takes the full bonus, Davis’ salary next season will increase from $27,093,018 to $31,156,971. And good for him. He earned the trade kicker in his contract.

This also supports agent Rich Paul’s contention that he puts Davis’ interests first while representing Davis, not catering to fellow client LeBron James. Because while the extra money is nice for Davis, this hurts LeBron’s Lakers.

The Lakers now project to have just $24 million in cap room. They can still get a helpful player or two, but $28 million would have gone further.

I wonder whether the Pelicans prefer to pay Davis’ bonus. Though a $4,063,953 check is nothing to sneeze at, tying up the Lakers’ cap space has value with New Orleans getting so many future draft picks from Los Angeles. Maybe the Pelicans have already made Davis getting his full bonus an essential aspect of this trade.

If not, the Lakers have a week before the Davis trade can become official to pitch free agents. Perhaps, if they line up certain free agents and show him the spending power of that extra money, Davis would waive all or some of his trade bonus.

But I wouldn’t blame him if he wants his money and puts the onus on the Lakers to build a strong team, anyway. That’d sounds a lot like another Paul client.