The 2003 NBA Draft is one of the greatest in history, with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and other eventual stars selected early on. And then there was the No. 2 pick, where the Detroit Pistons selected infamous bust Darko Milicic.
Ultimately, it is unclear how costly the Milicic pick was by Detroit. The team went on to win the 2004 NBA Title and appeared in the NBA Finals once again the following year. The team might’ve gotten over the hump that second year with an additional top-end scorer like Carmelo, though.
Many have wondered what could have been for the Pistons had they selected the national championship-winning freshman out of Syracuse. Apparently, Carmelo wonders as well. He wound up going No. 3 to the Denver Nuggets and quickly turning into a year-in, year-out All-Star and one of the most gifted scorers the league has ever seen. In a recent interview, he revealed that the Pistons told him he was going to be their pick at No. 2.
“We drove from (Baltimore) to Philly to go watch. It was Detroit versus Philly,” Anthony told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on their show All The Smoke. “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, ‘We taking you. We taking you.’ I’m driving back up 95 like, ‘Yo, we going to Detroit.’ The whole hood? ‘We Detroit.’”
One of the biggest “What – Ifs” in #NBA History.
I truly believe Pistons win 3-4 w/ Melo.
— Zak Noble (@Zaknoble) August 17, 2021
Instead, Detroit opted for the European big man Milicic. Today, few bat an eye at a top Euro prospect edging out some major college stars, but it became clear early on that Darko didn’t have it.
Through three seasons with the Pistons, he averaged just 1.6 points and 1.2 total rebounds, averaging just 5.8 minutes in 96 appearances with the team. He wound up carving out a few decent years with the Orlando Magic, Memphis Grizzlies, and Minnesota Timberwolves as a roleplayer, but far below the expectations laid out for him as the No. 2 pick.
Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony thinks he and the Pistons would’ve won back-t0-back titles, had they taken him.
“To this day, I still think about that. I’m like, they promised me. You know what I’m saying? ‘We taking you.’ I’m talking about all the way up to draft day, you understand? ‘We taking you.’ So, in my mind, I’m like, ‘I’m going to Detroit.’ …They won it and I’m like, ‘Ah, my luck.’ If I’m there, I think they win another one. I think we go back-to-back if I’m there.”
It’s not a farfetched thought. After beating a Los Angeles Lakers “superteam” in 2004, they lost in seven games to the San Antonio Spurs. Perhaps Melo would’ve extended that peak as well. Detroit would go on to lose in three straight conference finals from 2006-08, before dropping to the eight seed and getting swept by LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2009, and falling out of the playoff picture entirely by 2010.