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Prince holds court in Detroit

His presence key in Milicic choice

Sick of all the hype yet? LeBron This. Carmelo That. (How low do you have to stoop to even begin to think that these two should be compared to Magic and Larry? Please.) There's one more tete-a-tete, however, for a lot of nonbelievers in Detroit: March 19. That's the date of the Denver Nuggets' only visit to the Palace of Auburn Hills, a visit that should include Carmelo Anthony, the player Detroit bypassed to take Darko Milicic. Pistons basketball boss Joe Dumars already is prepping for the anticipated response: How could you have passed on Anthony for this kid from Serbia?

Two words: Tayshaun Prince.

"I'm willing to live with the Carmelo chants," Dumars said. "I'm fine with that. We have a pretty decent small forward who won some big games for us in the playoffs."

Prince emerged last season, especially in the playoffs, to make Dumars's decision last June a lot easier. It also didn't hurt that Milicic had a terrific workout, has oodles of promise, and, lest we forget, is 7 feet 1 inches. But having Prince made the decision that much easier (as the Celtics saw all too painfully last Wednesday).

"Tayshaun Prince was their playoff MVP last year and he's a 6-9, 23-year-old small forward with long arms," said Celtics hoop boss Danny Ainge. "Carmelo Anthony is 6-6, 6-7."

Dumars said the same thing.

"The guy won big, big playoff games for us," Dumars said. "He's poised. He's probably our smartest player. I'm so comfortable with him walking out as a starter every night. That helped the process of choosing Darko -- having a Tayshaun Prince here. I think that gets lost in the whole Darko-Melo debate. We have Tayshaun Prince here."

And the hope is they'll soon have Milicic helping out as well, certainly well before Denver shows up. Dumars raves about the kid. Larry Brown raves about the kid. Chauncey Billups said, simply, "You think about it and he's the same age [18] as kids playing high school ball around here. He's going to be good. He can shoot. He can pass. And he's tough."

But he's not playing -- yet. And Anthony is starting for Denver.

"It's a situation where, because you are privy to so much more than the average fan, it's almost impossible to explain it to them," Dumars said. "And you're asking people to do the impossible nowadays -- and that's be patient. We live in a `right now' society. As much as I admire Carmelo, as much as I think he's going to be a great, great young player in this league, he provides people with the `right now.' All we say with Darko is that here's a 7-1 kid that's tremendously skilled, tremendously talented, has toughness, and has an incredible coach and staff. We think he's going to be special."

Milicic played only one minute in the Pistons' first four games.

"I just have to be patient and keep working and wait for my chance," he said. "I'm learning a lot. I'd like to play more and it's awful hard, but I have to be patient."

Ainge sees precisely where Dumars is coming from. He cautioned against drafting solely for size and referenced the Trail Blazers' decision in 1984 to take Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. But he also said he'd have had a tough time passing on Milicic.

"I think people are just too impatient," Ainge said. "The jury is still out on Milicic. But he's 18, he's over 7 foot, and he can play. Those guys are a lot harder to find than 6-6 guys who can play. Now, if Carmelo turns out to be Michael Jordan, then you might say it's the Sam Bowie Syndrome. But I don't think you can judge this thing for two years.

"A lot of teams have failed in the draft because they drafted for size. You have to be sure you're drafting quality size. This kid is quality size.

"He's 18. He's over 7 feet. He can dribble. He can shoot. I think he has a chance to be a very special player. But, having said that, Carmelo Anthony is a special player now. If this kid [Milicic] were playing for Denver, or a bad team, and not a team that is trying to win the Eastern Conference, he'd be doing spectacular things. The team might not be winning, but you'd see signs of greatness."

No luck with lottery

You have to either get badly hurt (DerMarr Johnson) or simply not pan out (Rodney White, Eddie Griffin) to be a lottery pick and not have the fourth year of your rookie deal guaranteed. The Houston Rockets apparently have had more than enough of Griffin, the seventh pick in 2001. He's currently on suspension while being treated for "emotional problems" that now include two certifiable no-nos: cops and guns. Thus, Griffin can be a free agent next summer, assuming he plays at all this year. His indefinite suspension kicked in Oct. 16 and he's losing more than $25,000 a game. The Nets actually drafted Griffin. But Jersey had no intention of taking him on; they'd heard enough and seen enough of Griffin's antics at nearby Seton Hall. So a prearranged deal was made and the Nets ended up with the three Houston first-rounders, Richard Jefferson, Jason Collins, and Brandon Armstrong. "We hit on two out of three," said Nets basketball boss Rod Thorn, adding that Armstrong just hasn't developed as hoped. The Nets did not extend Armstrong's deal as well. "We were considering him or [Gilbert] Arenas, so that's where we messed up. But we saw Arenas as too small to play [shooting guard] and we didn't think he was a point guard. He's just a terrific player." Three other first-rounders from the Class of 2001 also did not get Year 4 deals: Steven Hunter, Michael Bradley (of the Worcester Bradleys), and White, who was taken ninth overall and has done little to nothing in Detroit or Denver. For Bradley, the news was a double blow because he's also out following knee surgery. Raul Lopez was drafted in 2001 but not signed until 2002, so the Jazz have until Oct. 31, 2004, to pick up his fourth-year option. Three others -- Kirk Haston, Jeryl Sasser, and clueless Joe Forte -- already have been waived. Nineteen of the 28 players selected had their options picked up, including the Celtics' Kedrick Brown and former Celtic Joe Johnson.

Songaila fit for Kings

The Sacramento Kings make their lone visit to Boston this season tonight, minus the injured Chris Webber. But they also have Darius (We Hardly Knew Ye) Songaila on the squad, having pried him from the Celtics last summer for two second-round picks. Songaila played well during the exhibition season and has played himself into the rotation. "He's been great," said Kings center Vlade Divac. "He's a tough kid. I think we were lucky to get him on our team. I see a nice career in the NBA for him." Songaila wanted to make the Celtics last season but was advised to play overseas, which he did. "I hoped I could stick around," he said. "I guess I just didn't fit. Maybe it was something the coaches didn't see. I didn't have that great of a summer league. Things just didn't work out." Songaila, who is from Lithuania and played collegiately at Wake Forest, toiled for CSKA Moscow last season and also for the Lithuanian national team that won the recent European qualifier. He said he always thought -- and hoped -- the NBA would call one day. "I needed a chance at the right time and the right place," he said. "It worked out well. I came in here [Sacramento] and the coaches trusted me and [general manager] Geoff Petrie believed in me, so I'm happy. It's a dream come true. A lot of kids dream about this. I was one of those kids." . . . Yes, that was Dee Brown you saw in the area this weekend. He was up visiting his wife's family and friends, but he has another destination this week: San Antonio. Brown signed a two-year deal to coach the WNBA Silver Stars and plans to hit the ground running in the Alamo City this Friday. Brown, who coached the Orlando Miracle of the WNBA, said he wanted to get back into basketball after a short stint in the private sector in Orlando, Fla. "Corporate people don't have the same mentality as sports people," he said. "They don't have the mentality to act as a team or to do it together. It's `as long as my paycheck comes, that's all I care about.' " Brown also was under consideration for the WNBA job in Indiana, where he would have been reunited with Larry Bird (the Pacers own the Fever). But he feels San Antonio is a better gig. The team averaged around 11,000 and there's a big women's basketball presence in nearby Austin. Plus, he added, he has time to get things going. When he took the Orlando job, he had only a week before the season started.

Low point for Rivers

Speaking of Orlando, the knives sure seem to be out for coach Doc Rivers, whose team opened with an overtime win in New York and proceeded to drop five straight home games, including one to a Chicago team that had lost its previous two by 30 and 32 points. And this was after a 1-7 exhibition season. At the end of this week, the Magic head west for five games, so it could get ugly in a hurry. Magic COO John Wiesbrod (a former Harvard hockey player) gave Rivers a public boost last week. More important, the Magic could get both Pat Garrity and Gordan Giricek back this week, which has to help their anemic shooting (37.6 percent heading into the weekend) . . . Celtics GM Chris Wallace is in Europe for the next week or so, getting the first of many looks at the many intriguing players across the pond. Among the names you're going to hear early and often for next year's draft are Brazilian big man Tiago Splitter and Russian monster Pavel Podkolzine, who was a late withdrawal last year. Others will surely surface . . . Here's one take on all the low-scoring, poor-shooting games. "A lot of new personnel and a lot less practice time," said Celtics coach Jim O'Brien. He called the decision to keep three-year-and-up veterans out of the first three days of training camp "hurtful to the game of basketball. I don't think the players even liked it. It's just a bad decision."

Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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