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Waiting for Darko

I’m not going to say our long, national nightmare is over, even if I’m talking just about Wolves Nation. I wouldn’t even say it’s the end of an era. But today, the Timberwolves officially amnestied Darko Milicic, agreeing to pay him $7 million of the $10 million remaining on his contract over the next two years but removing the salary from their cap, per Jerry Zgoda at the Star Tribune. This move frees up $5 million to work with, but the move is maybe more important in non-dollar terms because it removes from the team someone who just apparently doesn’t care about doing a good job.

Now, to make an important distinction, it’s possible to care a great deal about doing your job and just be straight bad at it. You don’t see it very often in professional sports. The pool of people who get to the NBA is so small that even the players fans deride as “bums” are usually in fact good at a specific something and generally way better than most people at basketball. But you probably see it all the time at work or in school: students or coworkers who put their all into what they do but still just come up short. That’s not Darko.

I’ve already explored what I think makes—or rather doesn’t make—Darko tick, but basically, he’s a tremendously large person with some basketball skills who can make millions of dollars a year without trying very hard. And while being able to make millions of dollars playing a game—and not even playing it particularly well or with a modicum of what one might construe as joy—seems like something to envy, it mostly just makes me sad. Once the amnesty goes through, teams that are under the salary cap will be able to start bidding on Darko. To offset the non-guaranteed portion of his salary, the bidding will have to begin at $2 million. Given the way the league works, with salary floors and max contracts undervaluing stars, there’s a team out there who’s probably going to pick him up. Milicic apparently wants to continue playing in the league, even though his last season with the Timberwolves began with him in the starting lineup and ended with a string of DNPs. Supposedly, they were for a hamstring injury, but Adelman admitted that “[Darko] hasn’t done anything to really give you a lot of faith that he’s going to go out and do the job.”

And faith is really what it comes down to, if you’re talking about fidelity and devotion. Milcic has shown neither when it comes to bettering himself as a player and yet he’s still been rewarded with contracts time and time again. I’m not going to mention the now infamous phrase Kahn invoked when signing Milicic, nor play on it by talking about what a Hell having Darko on the team has been, because if it’s been Hell, it hasn’t been pitchforks and fire and brimstone. No, it’s been more like Samuel Beckett’s idea of purgatory, stuck in stasis and hoping an actual basketball player would show up, waiting for what we hoped would be the real Darko.

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