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Published: Sunday, 5/29/2005

How could Pistons pass on Wade?

Dwyane Wade could have been a Detroit Piston.

No joke.

The Pistons passed on Wade in the 2003 NBA draft so they could take Darko Milicic with the No. 2 overall pick.

Say what?

On second thought, the joke's on the Pistons.

Wade, who leads the Miami Heat against the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals, could make the Pistons rue the day they allowed one of the league's up-and-coming superstars to get away.

Wade posted All-Star numbers in his rookie season and MVP numbers in his second season.

At 6-4, Wade is shorter than Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen and Vince Carter, his contemporaries in the backcourt, but his game is more airborne than theirs. Wade makes more plays fit for TiVo consumption than any other player.

His ability to penetrate a defense and manufacture offense when the original play breaks down is uncanny.

Ironically, the Pistons, who become their own worst enemies when they endure long scoring droughts, don't have anyone like Wade to pick up the slack, and it's their own fault.

In addition to shooting and passing adeptly, Wade is one of the best rebounding guards to enter the NBA in a long time. He's a more athletic version of the great Sidney Moncrief.

Wade has a long wingspan and exceptional leaping ability. He has big, strong hands, a nose for the basket and a willingness to mix it up inside.

And one more thing: Wade has basketball integrity, something few players have any more.

Players who are willing to do whatever it takes to win at both ends of the floor, and have superb talent, are scarce.

Once again, we ask the question: How in the heck did the Pistons miss on Wade?

Detroit's defense of Milicic's selection has always been Milicic's tremendous "upside" and not wanting to duplicate two picks at the same position, like taking small forward Tayshaun Prince and passing on Carmelo Anthony.

The Pistons' argument about taking Prince over Anthony makes sense. Prince is a better fit for the Pistons, and the difference in talent between the players is negligible.

But it's becoming increasingly difficult to accept the Pistons' rationale for taking Milicic over Wade, a decision not unlike Portland taking Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan with the No. 2 pick in the 1984 draft.

Jordan led Chicago to six NBA titles, including a win over Portland in the 1992 finals.

Bowie's injury-plagued career never met the lofty expectations that were predicted for him. He'll go down in sports annals as an asterisk, an enigma who was drafted ahead of the greatest player in NBA history.

It's too early to tell if Milicic will justify the Pistons' faith in him. He's rarely played in his two NBA seasons.

Milicic may indeed become a great player one day. But the fact remains that he could play his whole career trying to become half as good as Wade.

That's not an indictment of Milicic as much as it is an admission of Wade's prodigious talent.

And that's no joke.



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