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SARATOGA SPRINGS - Darko Milicic has a Larry Brown story that ranks right up there with anything Isiah Thomas, James ***** and Stephon Marbury could tell you.

It happened in the closing minutes of Detroit's series-clinching victory against the Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals. Milicic, then a rookie, was on the floor in garbage time only to have his right hand broken by a hard foul.

"I was asking to come out of the game but Larry wouldn't let me," Milicic says. "He told me to, 'Play the right way.'"

What should have been a happy occasion in an otherwise frustrating first season for Milicic ended on a sour note. The pain was so extreme that Milicic missed the Pistons' victory parade two days later and eventually needed surgery.

That moment is a microcosm of Milicic's hard-luck career, which is now at a crossroads on the corner of 33rd St. and Seventh Ave. Milicic was picked right after No. 1 choice LeBron James in the 2003 draft and just before Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

That makes Milicic the answer to a trivia question, and leaves him with a legacy he'll never live up to. The other four are perennial All-Stars. Milicic is on his fourth team in five years.

"If I did have a chance to play I might be a better player," Milicic said. "I'm not saying I'd be an All-Star, but three years of not playing .. ."

Milicic was 18 when he was selected by the Pistons, an established club that reached back-to-back NBA Finals. There was not much playing time for Milicic, who appeared in 71 games in his first two seasons while earning a reputation as the human victory cigar - a player who only played in the final minutes of wins.

"They kept telling me to be ready, 'You're going to play,' but I never got a chance," he said. "It's not just their fault. It's my fault as well."

Milicic finally got a chance to play in his next two stops, Orlando and Memphis, and enjoyed modest success. He averaged 5.5 points and 4.3 rebounds for an awful Grizzlies team last season.

But the Knicks, who acquired Milicic on draft day in June for Quentin Richardson, believe they give Milicic the best opportunity to establish himself as a solid player. Mike D'Antoni wants to take advantage of the 7-footer's versatility and shot-blocking. He will be used as a backup center and power forward. Plus, the Knicks feel they are getting Milicic at a good point in his life. He became a father over the summer and even Milicic admitted that becoming a parent has changed him.

"It is an unbelievable feeling," he said. "When they let me know I had become a father it was a totally different feeling. I'm different. You grow up overnight when you have a baby."

Milicic is at peace with his past and his place in the league. He will become a free agent next summer and Milicic admitted that there is a good chance he will return to Europe, possibly his native Serbia, to resume his playing career next season.

"It depends on how the season goes," Milicic said. "If it's good for me I'll stay here. If not, life goes on. I'll go back and finish my career and enjoy my family."

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