A Similar End Likely Awaits Brandon Roy and Darko Milicic’s NBA Careers

The player who accomplished so much in such short time meets his likely end the same day as the player who did so little given so many chances. Brandon Roy and Darko Milicic entered with similar expectations as top-six picks in the NBA Draft and could quietly drift away just 20 days into this NBA season. Without this timing we’d have almost nothing to tie the two together. Their beginning and end points are neatly tethered together, but the gulf between their careers in between resembles a bell curve and its mirror image. Roy shot straight up to be Rookie of the Year, then a three-time All-Star; Milicic hit depths so low for a former No. 2 pick that he’s entered the lexicon as our synonym for Worst Case Scenario. In the past two years, Roy’s injury problems and Milicic’s poor-man’s revival brought the plots toward one another, ever so slowly.

But there’s another thing that ties them together now, too: Neither’s absence — short-term or, more likely, permanent — will affect their teams a bit. Are you surprised? You shouldn’t. Roy’s return from a retirement strongly suggested by Portland after chronic knee pain was always going to be viewed as a gambit by Minnesota to cheat the natural way of things. Guards who make their living getting to the rim do not, as a rule, bounce back well from six knee surgeries. Mark it up as No. 7 now, after The Oregonian reported Sunday evening he’ll undergo arthroscopic surgery this week that could keep him out for two weeks. Two weeks going on a second retirement, anyway.

Milicic is considering leaving the Boston team that salvaged him this summer not because he is hurt, but because of his ill mother in Serbia. According to Adrian Wojnarowski, he’s also frustrated because of his negligible role (5 minutes total this season) on the Celtics. He was valued because he could occasionally stand his ground in the paint, but his potential loss is not so concerning the Celtics will make immediate roster changes, Wojnarowski reports. Seven-foot rookie center Fab Melo won’t be recalled from NBDL Maine, nor is the team expected to sign a replacement for weeks should he depart even with Kenyon Martin — a forward, not a center, but a bigger body nonetheless — available. We hear often about Rasheed Wallace embodying the Knicks’ victory cigar this season, but Milicic is Doc Rivers‘ life-insurance policy, only used in the face of dire circumstances.

Roy has been more than that for Minnesota because of other injuries that stretched that roster thin, averaging 24.4 minutes per game. The minutes couldn’t mask that any contribution he gave Rick Adelman, who was reportedly wary of signing Roy in the first place, would be a surplus never expected to be sustained. He helped the Wolves shoot 10 percent better on effective FG percentage when he was on the court but he hadn’t played since Nov. 9. Chase Budinger‘s much-improved play took the onus off Roy to perform — well, until Budinger hurt his knee. Roy’s surgery is certainly more pressing for Minnesota, which could now be down to an eight-man rotation, but his 8.99 PER was by far the lowest of his career by nearly five points. When he didn’t play the Timberwolves’ defense allowed 9.2 points less per 100 possessions, which outweighed his offensive contributions.

And so we have Roy and Milicic, whose careers created such divergent publicity, meeting the likely end of their careers not by a national reaction of sadness — those tears have been shed in Portland, Seattle and Detroit at the latest two years ago — but by a similar, muted surprise that it happened this quickly. I know Roy could return and still play and that Milicic might stick with the Celtics, but the probability they return at all seems low. The odds are even lower that they’d return to affect any meaningful change in on-court roles. Their teams got little out of their experiments this season, but that’s what they were: experiments. Milicic wanted to see if he could still hang after a somewhat promising last few seasons in Minnesota, Roy tried to salvage his pride while knowing he was broken like Denzel Washington trying to keep up in He Got Game.

These aren’t cases of Sisyphus gleefully pushing up the rock; Roy and Milicic were very self-conscious about the success rates involved. After how wildly divergent their career paths were, maybe it’s best to not remember their similar end — no matter if that happens today or in April — for being at a similar low point, but for their similar act of trying to make it work when we all knew it couldn’t.

What do you think?

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