Carmelo Anthony: I still think about 2003 draft, Pistons promised they’d take me

Detroit Free Press

Who says NBA lottery picks don’t dream of playing in Detroit?

Some, apparently, have a hard time not talking about the possibility.

No this story isn’t about Jalen Green, it’s about Detroit Pistons fans’ favorite conversation from yesteryear:

What if Carmelo Anthony — or anyone else really — would have been the Pistons pick at No. 2 in the loaded 2003 NBA draft instead of Darko Milicic.

Melo has some thoughts…

“I think if I was there, they win another (title),” Anthony said on the “All The Smoke” podcast. “I wouldn’t jump out there and say we three-peat. I think we’d go back-to-back if I’m there. … They were all vets, I would have learned from those guys. And that second year coming back, I would have been a totally different player coming back.”

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Anthony, who made 10 All-Star teams and ranks in the top 10 in points in NBA history, is one of four future Hall of Famers selected in the top five of the 2003 draft. Milicic, the oddball in that quintet, never made an All-Star game and left Detroit with 96 appearances (with two starts), averaging 1.6 points and 1.2 rebounds in about six minutes per game over parts of three seasons.

But Milicic has a ring. Anthony, meanwhile, is joining his fourth team in five seasons, hoping to capture a Larry O’Brien Trophy in the twilight of his playing days.

“Changed the course of my career,” Anthony said. “I’mma tell you what, man: To this day, I still think about that. … Because I’m like, they promised me, ‘We taking you, we taking you.’ I’m talking about all the way up to draft day.

“So in my mind, I’m going to Detroit.”

In case you forgot, Anthony, 19 at the time, was widely considered a top-three pick in the 2003 draft after a dominating year (22.2 points, 10 rebounds a game) at Syracuse: he won All American honors, a national championship and his number was retired (after just one season).

The 7-foot Milicic was about a year younger and one of the best players in his Serbian basketball program from the time he was 14. The league he played in produced Toni Kukoc and Vlade Divac, so there was some track record there.

This blurb on Milicic was published as is in a 2003 predraft Sports Illustrated story (though it’s difficult to believe any NBA employee really thought a guy averaging 10 points — albeit as a teen — in Europe was rivaling LeBron James):

“He has the makings of the most dominant center in Europe since Arvydas Sabonis,” says an NBA scout who isn’t sure that James should be picked ahead of Milicic.

It’s clear there was a lot to like about Milicic.

But back to Anthony. He told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson, former NBA’ers who host the “All The Smoke” podcast, that the Pistons talked candidly about adding him — yet it sounds like there may have been a clue that the team and player weren’t fully on the same page.

“They was like ‘Yo, you gonna share time with Tayshaun.’ I’m like ‘Cool, I’mma come in and do my thing, but I don’t know how long I’m gonna share time with him,'” Anthony said with a slight chuckle. “… And then they won it. And I’m like, ‘My luck.'”

Barnes and Jackson can be heard agreeing with Anthony’s opinion that Detroit had more titles in store with Anthony. Barnes points out Rip Hamilton said on a previous episode that he believed Melo was going to be the pick, too.

“(I) drove from B-More to Philly, man, to go watch Detroit vs. Philly,” Anthony recalled on the podcast. “And Larry Brown had already taken the job at Detroit when he was still coaching Philly. So we’re in the back and he’s like ‘We taking you. We taking you.’ So I’m driving back up 95 like ‘We going to Detroit.'”

Many people have theorized that the Pistons would have gone from champions to dynasty with the addition of Anthony. Hamilton said as much, and Chauncey Billups insinuated it as well. 

However, Brown defended the draft decision and Ben Wallace had his doubts about Detroit’s ceiling with Melo, saying once that Melo probably expected to play a lot quicker than Milicic, which could have comprised team chemistry and Prince’s vital role on defense.

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Regardless, although the Pistons won the 2004 championship, Milicic was a particularly bad bust when compared to the players drafted near him. Objectively, a 10-season NBA career is impressive but still … his career win shares number is more comparable to Sasha Pavlovic or Detroit Mercy’s Willie Green (neither of whom were lottery picks) than James (admittedly, he was taken before Milicic) or Dwyane Wade (who went No. 5 overall, two spots after Anthony).

The realest line in the clip was Anthony’s last. Though he will go down as one of the best scorers of his generation, he knows his reputation as an all-timer would be bolstered to t elite had he won a ring nearly 20 years ago, if Brown and Co., as he says, had kept their word.

“That shit still sticks with me to this day,” Anthony said.

Follow the Free Press on Facebook and Twitter for more news. Tyler Davis can be contacted at or on Twitter @TDavisFreep.

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