That time Mike D’Antoni thought Darko Milicic would be better than LeBron James

By Vincent Frank

Back in 2003, Mike D’Antoni was manning the bench as an assistant for the Phoenix Suns. His team was coming off a disappointing 44-38 season but would eventually turn it around to the tune of a 62-20 mark under D’Antoni as its head coach two years later.

In between this, D’Antoni and his Suns took part in one of the best drafts in modern NBA history. It’s a class that saw LeBron James go No. 1 overall to the Cleveland Cavaliers and as many as four future Hall of Famers go within the top-five picks. The only exception here being a total bust by the name of Darko Milicic.

While he did play 10 seasons in the NBA, Milicic never averaged as much as nine points per game in a single season. Meanwhile, the likes of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — all picked in the top five of that year’s draft — would ultimately team up for multiple championships with the Miami Heat.

Heading into Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft, we’re being reminded of just how D’Antoni viewed James and Milicic 15 years before. It’s not good.

“A lot of people are saying James is good, there’s no doubt about it, and they love him, but the Yugoslavian kid (Milicic), at 7 feet, with all the things he’s supposed to be able to do, in three or four years will be the better pick.”


Three years later, and Milicic was traded by the Detroit Pistons after averaging 1.8 points per game to start the 2005-06 season. What about James? Well, he was busy averaging nearly 32 points per game for the Cavaliers.

Now the head coach of the Houston Rockets, there’s no questioning D’Antoni’s basketball knowledge. It’s still absolutely crazy to realize he valued Milicic over James in a draft that ultimately saw the Suns select — wait for it — Zarko Cabarkapa in the first round.

The moral of the story? Heading into Thursday’s draft, we can pretty much throw projections and predictions completely out the window.