Pistons get Cato, first-round pick for Darko, Arroyo

Updated: February 22, 2006, 1:43 PM ET
Associated Press

Darko Milicic

The Detroit Pistons gave up on Darko Milicic on Wednesday night, trading the No. 2 pick in the 2003 draft to the Orlando Magic along with Carlos Arroyo for a first-round selection and center Kelvin Cato.

Detroit drafted Milicic three years ago after LeBron James and ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. But Milicic barely played as the Pistons won an NBA title, almost repeated last year and have compiled the best record this season.

"We feel like this is a good trade for our team and gives our organization flexibility as we move forward this season and in the future," Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said. "We appreciate the professionalism and effort that both Darko and Carlos displayed on and off the court while here with the Pistons.

"Darko is a young player and I think he's going to get an opportunity to play in Orlando. I wish him the best going forward."

The 7-foot, 245-pound center from Serbia-Montenegro played in 96 games in three seasons, averaging 1.6 points, 1.2 rebounds and 5.8 minutes. He is 20 years old.

After being relegated to the bench under former coach Larry Brown for two seasons, first-year coach Flip Saunders insisted Milicic would be given a chance to play. But he was still stuck as a seldom-used reserve, averaging 1.6 points in 25 games this season.

"I think he needs a chance. He's a very skilled 7-foot basketball player that can shoot the ball from the elbow, top-of-the-key area, 15-17 foot range," Magic assistant general manager Otis Smith said. "I think he just needed a change to show what he can do."

In return for one of the NBA's biggest busts, the Pistons acquired a first-round pick and future salary-cap space when Cato's $8 million-plus contract expires this summer.

If Orlando's first-round pick next year is No. 5 or better, the Magic will keep it. If it's not, the Pistons will acquire the Magic's 2008 first-round slot.

Cato is not expected to contribute to the Pistons this season, but the cap room created by his departure will help them re-sign Ben Wallace this summer. Cato has not played since Jan. 18 because of a sprained ankle and is averaging just 3.8 points and 2.7 points for the Magic this season. The 31-year-old center averaged a career-high 8.7 points with the Houston Rockets during the 1999-00 season.

The Pistons acquired Arroyo from the Utah Jazz nearly 13 months ago, with three years and about $12 million left on his contract. He averaged 3.2 points and 3.1 assists this season, his fifth in the NBA. With the return of Lindsey Hunter from injury, Arroyo might have played even less the rest of the season. Detroit also clears some salary-cap space by dealing the point guard.

Detroit heads into this weekend's All-Star break an NBA-best 42-9 while the Magic are among the league's worst teams.

Despite his struggles with the Pistons, Milicic was a fan favorite during his first two seasons and was embarrassed when they chanted: "We want Dar-ko!" This season, the fans seemed to give up on trying to get him into games and the team ran out of patience with a player it knew would be a project.

With Detroit's playoff position secure last season, Milicic started the final two regular-season games and responded with 25 points and eight rebounds -- the kind of numbers the Pistons said he would put up if he was getting more playing time on a struggling team.

During practices and workouts, Milicic often looked impressive scoring on an array of low-post moves, mid-range jumpers and 3-pointers. His skills rarely carried over into games.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press