Andre Miller never was, and now at 38 years old, never will be the sort of the player that demands attention on the free agent market on par with Kevin Durant, Kevin Love or even Kevin Martin.
But when the veteran point guard told his agent in February that the Washington Wizards were the team he wanted to join after he was exiled in Denver, it signaled something that probably hasn’t been true for almost 10 years — Washington is again becoming an intriguing destination for NBA players.
For Miller, who was traded to Washington in late February as part of a three-team deal that sent Jan Vesely to Denver and Eric Maynor to Philadelphia, his time with the Wizards brought “fresh air” to the 15th year of his career, as he served as a steady backup for all-star guard John Wall and brought necessary depth and wisdom to the Wizards during their playoff run.
“I sat back and watched teams play and when the opportunity to come here was there, I asked my agent to try to get me here,” Miller recently recalled following his exit interview. “I felt like this team was a team that could possibly, with all the right things happening, get to the conference finals, and it could have happened but it didn’t. I’m just happy to be around a good group of guys that are passionate about basketball.”
It’s easy to overlook Miller’s passion and knack for the game. He’s laid-back, unassuming, calculated and cool in his comments, and he carries an old-school skill set that’s followed him since his days as a Utah Ute in the late ’90s.
But with him leading the second unit, the Wizards were a markedly different team. Bradley Beal perhaps benefited the most, as Miller’s strong court awareness helped him find the budding star at the right spots along the perimeter and in transition, like on the ridiculous full-court pass shown below:
“Just the fact that he has that high IQ, he’s been in the league for a long time so he knows everything,” Beal said that night following an April 14 win against Miami. “When he advances the ball it spaces the floor our more and creates havoc of the defense.”
With Miller on the floor with Beal, the Wizards shot 49.6 percent from the floor and had a plus-minus rating of 1.9, whereas the Wizards shot 46.2 percent and were 0.3 with Wall, Beal and the rest of Washington’s starting lineup. In other words, the Wizards didn’t lose much of anything with their best player on the bench, providing a backup leader that the team failed to find in Maynor or A.J. Price.
“I don’t know what the media and everybody was talking about this team through the season but I saw balance,” said Miller, who averaged 3.9 points and 2.7 assists in 39 games with the Wizards. “I just felt that I could be a piece that could come over and possible stabilize the bench and bring something to the table.”
Some of Miller’s confidence and optimism stemmed from his familiarity with several current Wizards. As a rookie in Cleveland in the 1999 season, Miller played under Wittman, laying the foundation with a coach whom he said has best prepared him for games in his 15 years as a pro. And during his two stints in Denver, Miller had played alongside Al Harrington and Nene, whom he calls “one of my favorite players that I’ve played with in my career.”
It was Harrington who echoed Miller’s positive feelings about the Wizards, texting him about the strong bond among players, coaches and management that he’d witnessed since signing with the Wizards prior to last season. These things were confirmed when the trade materialized in February, when the Wizards welcomed Miller with open arms.
“This was probably the first time in my career where I received text messages from guys saying welcome to the team,” Miller said. “Everything played out right for me.”
The move ultimately resulted in Miller playing on a team that advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in his career. But even in light of this and with Miller knocking on 40, he doesn’t see this season as his swan song.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder is still able to thrive by posting up smaller guards and using crafty moves to score or find the open man. That was the case in Game 1 of the Wizards’ first-round playoff series with Chicago when he scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth quarter to help secure a comeback victory. And with Wall and Beal emerging as arguably the league’s top back court, Miller’s presence could prove invaluable in their continued progression.
The question for the Wizards is if this value is worth the $4.6 million Miller would be owed should they pick up the 2014-15 option in his current contract or should they buy out his contract for less and allow him to become a free agent. However this summer plays out, Miller hopes it ends with him again donning a Wizards uniform.
“The business side always throws you for a loop,” Miller said. “Hopefully they can figure out how to bring a nice good core group of guys back and I’d like to be a part of that. … Hopefully, I can finish my career with the Wizards organization.”