The Pistons infamously picked Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony with the No. 2 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft.
That sparked a big “what if?” The talented Anthony would have definitely raised Detroit’s ceiling. But he also might have disrupted the chemistry and defense of the Pistons, who won the title in 2004 with Tayshaun Prince at small forward (and Milicic riding the bench).
Anthony on “All The Smoke”:
They promised me. You know what I’m saying? “Yo, we’re taking you. We’re taking you.” I’m talking about all the way up to draft day, you understand? “We’re taking you.” So, in my mind, I’m like, “I’m going to Detroit.”
They was like, “Yo, you’re going to share time with Tayshaun.” I’m like, “Cool, I ain’t – I’m going to come and do my thing.” But I don’t know how long I’m going to share time with him, you know what I’m saying? I’m just coming to do my thing.
I still think about that s*** to this day, bro.
We drove from B-more to Philly to go watch — it was Detroit versus Philly. And Larry Brown had already took the job at Detroit, but he was still coaching Philly. So, we’re in the back, and he’s like, “Yo, we’re taking you. We’re taking you.” So, I’m driving back up 95 like, “Yo, we going to Detroit.” The whole hood, we Detroit.
That s*** still sit with me to this day.
This story has a few holes.
As Anthony said, Brown was still coaching the 76ers during that 2003 Detroit-Philadelphia second-round playoff series. It wouldn’t be surprising if the job-hopping Brown already talked to the Pistons, who would fire Rick Carlisle and hire Brown a couple weeks later. Detroit was widely believed to have a deal in place with Brown before firing Carlisle. But the Pistons had the East’s best record. Were they certain at that point, before they got swept by the Nets in the Eastern Conference finals, they’d fire Carlisle? Was Brown so sure he’d land in Detroit that he’d talk to a draft prospect about it while still coaching the 76ers?
The lottery also hadn’t been held yet. The Pistons, who owned the Grizzlies’ top-one-protected first-round pick, had just a 15% chance of getting the No. 2 or No. 3 pick.
I don’t know whom Anthony spoke to in Detroit as draft day approached, but general manager Joe Dumars – not Brown – was in charge of drafting. The Pistons were widely expected to pick Milicic. In fact, most – if not all – teams would have taken Milicic No. 2. Anthony’s case for No. 2 was largely built by people far more familiar with Syracuse than European basketball then bolstered by hindsight.
Milicic was a bust who lasted just two-plus seasons in Detroit. Anthony went No. 3 to the Nuggets and had some success in Denver. He then went to play for the Knicks, Thunder, Rockets, Trail Blazers and now Lakers. His Hall of Fame career has taken numerous twists and turns, and he surely has numerous stories about how everything unfolded.
But this retelling of his pre-draft experience leaves more questions than answers.