The Pistons fell in love with Darko Miličić in an illegal workout that happened by chance. Darko flew into New York for the draft process and wanted to get some shots up. By pure chance, the Pistons were practicing in the same gym, getting ready for their playoff match vs. the Nets. The entire staff and team went to check Darko out, and the Pistons international scout Tony Ronzoni put him through a workout.
“The practice shuts down; everybody walks over to the other court and Tony Ronzoni – they probably violated a million NBA rules on this – gets on the court with him and starts putting Darko through a workout, after he’d just got off the plane. With the Pistons players there, coaches there, Dumars there. This is what sealed Darko with the no.2 pick in the Draft. He was unconscious. He was shooting threes; he was dunking the ball, playing with great energy. Everybody fell in love with Darko that night.”Chad Ford, The Bill Simmons podcast
Everyone agrees the Pistons change their pick in a do-over. Most people think Carmelo would’ve been their pick at no.2, and his career would’ve been entirely different. The assumption is the veteran leadership on that Detroit roster would change the trajectory of his career. As it turns out, before Darko’s workout blew them away, the Pistons had Chris Bosh on the top of their list.
“If Darko had not been the pick, I believe the Pistons would’ve selected Chris Bosh at no.2, not Carmelo Anthony. He also came in for a secret workout with the Pistons and had an excellent workout for them.”Chad Ford, The Bill Simmons podcast
It wasn’t only about Bosh. Several red flags came up about Carmelo for the Pistons in their accounting process. Questions about his dedication to the game and his work ethic appeared. There also seem to have been a lot of off-court problems. Chad Ford chose his words carefully and said he might be specific once Melo retires.
“There was a lot of off the court concerns about Carmelo Anthony, that had come out since the NCAA tournament had been over. One of which is that he did not pick up a basketball before like a week before the combine. You know Carmelo’s frame and what happens next. He showed up vastly out of shape, and that had been after they put in a good ten days.”Chad Ford, The Bill Simmons podcast
But what concerned teams most were Carmelo’s off-court activities and the people he had around him. Not practicing consistently before the draft is a red flag, and we’ve seen talented players who just don’t seem to care about the game. But with Carmelo, that was more likely to be a result of youth and not lack of passion. But what teams have least influence over and are most concerned are problematic off-court activities. It seems there were a lot of those.
“The Pistons and a number of teams were really worried. While LeBron had a clean sheet, there were a lot of concerns about Carmelo. Some of which played out, frankly, in the NBA. I was embedded with Carmelo for a day at the combine. I agreed with the agent to kill the story; it was that bad. I had the opportunity to write a really, somewhat scandalous story about that day.”Chad Ford, The Bill Simmons podcast
The “played out, frankly” part refers to situations like the one in 2004 when Carmelo was charged with possession of marijuana. While waiting to board the Nuggets plane, marijuana was found in his backpack. Melo later said he had borrowed the backpack to a friend who must’ve left it there. The friend corroborated the story, but even though he was cleared legally, teams took note of the fact.
The same goes for his appearance in the “Stop Snitchin’” DVDs (a DVD was something people used before Netflix to watch movies and shows. We had to walk to a store and pay to rent it out for a few days. It was hard out there.) Skepticism about Anthony didn’t exist only with the Pistons. Ford said if Memphis had the 2nd pick, Jerry West was in love with Dwyane Wade and is confident he would’ve been West’s pick.
First of all, credit to Ford for cutting a monster story that he had the right to publish. Ford said he saw no point in destroying someone’s name and potentially career when they are so young and just getting started.
I think all this is a testament to Carmelo. If there were so many issues and bad influences around him, to see where he is now is impressive. For years Carmelo has been a leading voice in fighting for justice and equality, did a ton of charity and community work, and used his platform to do good. Anthony may not have won a ring (yet), but given the challenges he had, Melo’s career is impressive.
As someone who’s not a fan of his game, I have to agree – Melo is underappreciated.