Darko Milicic feels reborn in Orlando


ORLANDO, Fla. – Introducing Darko Milicic, Version 2.0!

The new, improved Milicic is tanner. His distractingly floppy blond hair has been shaved and colored into a cropped brown buzz.

When he strolls off the court, fans clamor for autographs, and not because they think he’s some symbolic victory cigar.

And the biggest change of all – Milicic, Version 2.0 smiles.

“I’m happy playing here,” he said, the corners of his mouth revealing the quickest hint of a grin on Friday as he sat in his locker room in Orlando. “I just enjoy it.”

Those are words he uttered in Detroit only when he had to. But Milicic, who’s playing 21 minutes a game for the Magic, is visibly lighter and looser now that the burden of what Pistons coach Flip Saunders called his “awkward situation” is behind him.

“He has a smile almost every day, and just his game speaks for himself,” said Carlos Arroyo, his Magic teammate and fellow former Piston.

“You can tell he’s having a great time.”

Milicic, who is from Serbia-Montenegro, said he hopes the Pistons win the championship this season. He said he still hears from some of the guys – Carlos Delfino, Dale Davis – and he thanks them for the nice things they say about his game.

But he didn’t want to spend much time chatting about his days in Detroit, days that ended in February when the Pistons shipped the former No. 2 draft pick to Orlando.

After 21/2 seasons of minimal playing time, the Serbian center’s disposition deteriorated to the point the Pistons thought it better to cut ties.

“Right situation and timing are everything,” Saunders said. “I think with us, the timing was an awkward situation. … When he lost a little bit of his time, he lost a little bit of his will.”

Now, Milicic is averaging about eight points and two blocked shots per game in Orlando.

“I told you,” Rasheed Wallace said. “You didn’t want to listen to me. … I told a lot of people, all Darko needed was some time and he couldn’t get it here playing behind me, Dice (Antonio McDyess) and Ben.”

(c) 2006, Detroit Free Press.

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ARCHIVE PHOTO on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

Darko Milicic

AP-NY-04-11-06 1657EDT