- Marc Stein, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Editor's note: Every Friday, ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein takes you around the league for the latest news and notes in "Coast to Coast."
It wasn't an especially great week for Zarko or Darko. By now you've seen the indefensible Danny Fortson push that broke the wrist of Phoenix rookie Zarko Cabarkapa late Wednesday. Friday night, meanwhile, brings Detroit's Darko Milicic face-to-face with the only player drafted ahead of him in June, except that Milicic had to prepare for his showdown with Cleveland's LeBron James -- which will now be televised by ESPN after Toronto at Orlando was dropped -- knowing it probably won't be much of a showdown at all.
Not unless the Pistons start blowing out the Cavaliers -- or vice versa, theoretically -- to get Milicic some extra minutes.
James is averaging 17.4 points in 40.5 minutes per game, levels even the Cavs didn't expect from him until the second half of the season. Milicic has logged just 17 minutes total in seven games and that is exactly how the veteran-laden Pistons pictured it coming into the season ... but naturally difficult for an eager teen like Darko to stomach. Especially in a week like this, when Milicic is about to be in the same building as James.
Darko doesn't need to speak fluent English to know that folks at The Palace of Auburn Hills will be talking about his progress in relation to LeBron's.
Yet those close to Milicic insist that the youngest player in the league -- who doesn't turn 19 until the 2004 draft next June -- is dealing with the deal. Or, at the very least, learning how to deal with Detroit's insistence that he spend the bulk of his first season in the States on the practice floor.
"I think he gets it as well as you feasibly can at that age," said Marc Cornstein, Darko's agent. "You obviously don't find a lot of patient 18-year-olds. That's a contradiction in terms. But I'd only be concerned if I was hearing from Larry Brown or Joe Dumars that he's just not getting things or not working hard. Everything has been very positive. If anything, maybe he's a little ahead of where they were expecting him at this stage. It's just a matter of him earning time on a playoff team with a great frontcourt."
To bring Milicic a little holiday warmth, Cornstein and wife Natasha traveled to Michigan to bring Darko to his first Thanksgiving dinner with Natasha's sister in a Detroit suburb. Of course, there's really only one thing that could brighten the kid's week: Milicic finally scoring his first NBA points Friday, with James on the floor and the ESPN cameras rolling.
Make that two centers in our prayers
Hopefully you saved a Thanksgiving wish for Philadelphia's Todd MacCulloch. He needs one as much as New Jersey's Alonzo Mourning, at age 27, because of what MacCulloch refers to as "a mixed bag" of nerve disorders that have sidelined the 7-footer for almost a year.
Since last January, when he started having trouble with his hands and feet and balance, MacCulloch has indeed made some progress. Most of his discomfort now is felt from his ankles down. But because MacCulloch suffers from more than one condition, doctors can't say if they'll ever be able to cure MacCulloch to the point that he could play again. At present he's working nights as the Sixers' radio analyst.
"Things haven't gotten better in the time I would have liked," said MacCulloch, who's on medication and undergoes physical therapy when he's not working in his new job in hopes of making enough progress to make a comeback someday. "It's been a little bit frustrating. Nothing has really made me feel the way I need to feel."
MacCulloch, though, also still describes himself as hopeful and stubborn, which is why he persists with physical therapy and medication, not ready to believe that he'll never be well enough to make a comeback.
"It's nobody's fault," he said. "I know God's got a plan. I'm just trying to figure out what that plan is."
Think we can make it to the next holiday, a month away, without any more firings? There have been three coaching changes since training camp started, if you include Pat Riley's resignation in Miami, and the everybody's-doin'-it mentality that has become so prevalent in this league means that any coach who hits a rough patch is bound to hear more than whispers. New Jersey's Byron Scott and Phoenix's Frank Johnson have already been subjected to it, and Boston's Jim O'Brien could be next, on the premise that Danny Ainge is bound to want his own coach eventually. For the record, Scott and O'Brien are the only two playoff coaches in the East who finished last season with the team they're coaching now. ... Scott Skiles might not have even been John Paxson's second choice to coach the Bulls. It's well known that Paxson reached out to Doug Collins over the summer to serve as a Chicago assistant, which would have placed Collins well to succeed the ousted Bill Cartwright. Word is Paxson also had strong interest in one of Jeff Van Gundy's trusted aides, Tom Thibodeau, who elected to follow Van Gundy to Houston instead of joining Cartwright's staff. Van Gundy has lobbied for Thibodeau to be considered future head-coaching openings, and Thibodeau might have gotten his chance with the Bulls. ... It will be interesting to see if anyone shows interest in center Wang Zhizhi, who was waived by the Clippers last week when L.A., needing some insurance at point guard, released Wang with nearly two years left on a three-year, $6 million contract to make room for Doug Overton. Wang refused to return to his homeland for national-team duty in the summer of 2002 and has not returned since, making some teams -- particularly Dallas, the team that drafted him -- unwilling to employ him. The fear is upsetting the Chinese government -- that signing Wang could jeopardizing the release of future Chinese players, if a team is interested in drafting or signing additional players from that market. Clippers television broadcasts were banned in China after Wang signed with L.A.
Hard at work in practice, Darko Milicic knows his time will come to prove he's worthy of the No. 2 pick.