Andre Miller didn’t hesitate when he got word on Thursday afternoon that the Denver Nuggets had traded him to the Washington Wizards. The move ended a nearly seven-week nightmare and meant that Miller would finally start playing basketball again for the first time in 2014. Miller was so excited that he didn’t sleep, packed a few items, hopped on a red-eye flight from Denver to Washington and headed directly to Verizon Center for his first practice on Friday.
“I was ready to go,” Miller said after joining a new team that features several familiar faces. “I’m glad it’s over. I’ve been sitting around for about a month and a half. I’m happy to be here.”
Miller’s life-long addiction to basketball is the reason why he had only missed six games through his first 14 seasons in the NBA, ignoring most minor injuries and unknowingly playing through a separated shoulder two years ago. But that desire to play at all times also contributed to Miller experiencing his longest-ever separation from the game.
Upset that he was about to miss a game because of a coach’s decision for the first time in 1,156 regular season appearances, the 37-year-old Miller screamed toward Denver Coach Brian Shaw on the bench about feeling disrespected and had to be restrained. That ugly public dispute during a loss to Philadelphia on Jan. 1 led to a 50-day banishment from the team that also included a two-game suspension without pay.
“Things happen. You’re going to have ups and downs throughout your entire career and it was just an instance where I kind of lost my cool and was a little bit unprofessional,” Miller explained. “I stepped out of character and I apologized to my teammates for what happened. That’s not me. That’s not what I’m about.”
The Wizards didn’t have any concerns about Miller’s attitude or professionalism when they decided to send Jan Vesely to Denver and Eric Maynor and a 2015 second-round pick to Philadelphia in a three-team trade to acquire the crafty veteran. They also had enough people to vouch for Miller. Washington Coach Randy Wittman had Miller on his team for his first two seasons in Cleveland, which selected Miller eighth overall in 1999. Nene and Al Harrington played with Miller in Denver and Martell Webster played with Miller in Portland.
“I think everybody is going to benefit from him being here,” Harrington said. “I know if I ever ran a team and had a chance to get Andre Miller, I would. Dre is the type of guy that every team in the NBA could use.”
Miller averaged 5.9 points and 3.3 assists in 30 games with the Nuggets this season. Denver went 11-5 when Miller received at least 19 minutes and 3-12 when he didn’t before his suspension. Denver then went 10-12 before dealing him and is in danger of having its 10-year playoff streak come to an end.
“Bad to Denver and the Nuggets and great to us because that man right there, in my opinion, he’s in my five top players,” Nene said of Miller. “I always joke with him, he’s 37 years old but he look like 28. The way he plays, he looks like a little kid playing on the playground. He loves basketball. He breathes basketball. He’s going to help a lot our team, for sure.”
Miller’s relationship with Shaw was so far beyond repair that the Nuggets left him alone, even as point guard Nate Robinson went down with a season-ending knee injury and starter Ty Lawson suffered a fractured rib. In anticipation of an eventual trade, Miller worked out regularly at the Nuggets practice facility when the team wasn’t around, though Denver General Manager Tim Connelly attended a few of the sessions.
A former Wizards executive, Connelly worked diligently with team President Ernie Grunfeld and senior vice president of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard to get a deal done.
“I’ve called that my home since 2003,” said Miller, who left his hometown Los Angeles Clippers to sign a free agent deal with the Nuggets that summer and has also played for Philadelphia. “Even when I got traded before for Allen Iverson, I still kept my home there and fortunately I ended going back there, but I still considered it home. But it’s time to move on and sometimes change is good. At this point in my career, I want to be around positive people, guys that enjoy playing basketball and guys that want to win.”
Miller has made the playoffs in nine of his past 10 seasons in the NBA and was eager to join a team that was striving for the postseason. The Wizards are fifth in the Eastern Conference, and Wittman believes that the team could not have passed on a chance to acquire an accomplished backup point guard to assist in the development of John Wall and Bradley Beal.
“He’s going to bring us some leadership. He’s going to bring a guy that knows how to play and has a great feel for the game, and another guy at that position that has good control of a team,” Wittman said. “I think he’ll be fine there.”
Wittman added that Miller will play on Saturday against the New Orleans Pelicans despite missing nearly two months of basketball and having just one practice with the team: “Oh sure. We didn’t bring him in here to wait a couple of months to play him.”
Miller is done waiting around and is excited about being reunited with Wittman. “It’s kind of like a circle, you know. Coming in with him and will probably end with him. I’m happy to be around him,” said Miller, who turns 38 next month. “I’ve moved on and I wish the Denver Nuggets organization the best and hopefully I can finish my career in Washington.”