Don't forget about Delfino
LOS ANGELES -- Joe Dumars smiles when he confirms that, yes, those Carmelo Anthony questions aren't coming in so loudly now that the Detroit Pistons are in the NBA Finals and playing the Lakers rather evenly.
Truth is, though, there was another reason all along that Dumars shouldn't have been so widely second-guessed for his gutsy decision to draft Darko Milicic ahead of 'Melo last June. That reason: Dumars will have two promising youngsters at Anthony's position next season, not just Tayshaun Prince. Which means Detroit is pretty well covered at that spot no matter how Darko develops.
People have been forgetting Carlos Delfino, the other foreigner Detroit nabbed in the 2003 draft.
While true that Dumars had no guarantee he'd land the Argentinian swingman after he landed Darko, Dumars did get both guys he wanted. The Pistons have since come to believe, without much external debate, that Delfino would be a lottery pick if he were part of this June's draft pool, after his fine season in Italy with Skipper Bologna.
The Pistons also believe that Delfino will prove to be a better shooter than another Argentine swingman folks seem to like: San Antonio's Manu Ginobili. That's not to say Delfino is going to be as good as Ginobili -- let's not get carried away -- but Detroit knows it won't have to wait on Delfino's body, as with Milicic. Delfino is sculpted swingman already, and Detroit plans to use him immediately to provide a nice contrast to the slight Prince and Rip Hamilton.
"He's not Darko," Dumars said of Delfino. "He's 21, 22 and he's ready to play."
Joe D went on to insist that reports regarding Delfino's hesitation to join the Pistons and play for Larry Brown next season -- in fear of being rooted to Brown's bench like fellow foreigners Mehmet Okur and Milicic -- are unfounded. Ask him if Delfino will be in Detroit for training camp in October and Dumars has a firm answer: "It's 100 percent."
Foreign sources insist that Dumars is being overly optimistic, but if he's right?
"We're going to be pretty deep at the two/three next season," Dumars said with another grin.
If I'm Phil Jackson, I'd give Bryon Russell a shot at it, too, since Russell is a noted defender who's single-minded enough to focus on chasing and who's itching to make a Finals contribution. The Lakers need someone to spell Bryant, because if Karl Malone and Derek Fisher remain as limited by their respective knee issues as they looked in Game 1, L.A. has to have a fresher Kobe in the fourth quarter than it did Sunday night.
Yet I'm told Jackson is unlikely to entrust Russell with such a prime assignment when he has barely played in the playoffs. Since Russell has logged just eight minutes in the postseason to date, Jackson wonders how long Russell's conditioning would allow him to keep up with Rip.
"Watch out for the Rodmonian," he said. "I am coming back, and the NBA needs me back."
At 43, Rodman concedes that he has lost some of the lift and explosion that made him one of the greatest rebounders in the game's history at just 6-8. But he has a wish list of teams anyway, saying he'd love to play for the Lakers, San Antonio, Dallas, Sacramento or New York.
"A half step (lost)," Rodman said, "is (still) better (than) most guys in the NBA now."
The league absolutely has to respond to this plea: Please ditch those trophy presentations at the end of each conference finals.
Conference champions who hang banners in the rafters are already overdoing it.
"We see Darko as being on the same pace as a Jermaine O'Neal," Dumars said hopefully.
Even if Milicic doesn't develop similarly, Dumars' willingness to gamble on Darko and Delfino is no less a reason why he got my Executive of the Year vote than the mid-season heist of Rasheed Wallace.
Who else out there has a team with a 1-0 series lead over the Lakers and two blue chips in the organization who have nothing to do with that lead?
"It's the best of both worlds for us," Dumars said, smiling yet again.
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