By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
RICHMOND, Oct. 5 -- It hasn't taken long for Mike Miller to win over his new teammates and coaches with his play-making skills, precision passing, rebounding and deadeye shooting from long range. His choice in footwear, however, isn't winning over anyone in the locker room.
Unaware of the Washington Wizards' three consecutive first-round playoff losses to Cleveland, Miller arrived for training camp wearing LeBron James's signature Nike shoe. DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison didn't hesitate to let Miller know that a change was necessary.
"He got to get them out of here," said Stevenson, a noted James agitator who engaged in a war of words with him two postseasons ago that later involved rappers Soulja Boy and Jay-Z. "LeBron shoes -- we off that. We already got war against them. He can't wear that. It's all beef right there."
Miller's sneaker choice may have unwittingly landed him in the middle of a heated rivalry, but his unselfish play has allowed him to blend in quickly as the Wizards prepare to play their first preseason game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday.
Coach Flip Saunders said he may have to rely on "rock, paper, scissors" to determine his starting shooting guard, but Miller and Stevenson both got most of the action with starters Butler, Jamison, Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood on Monday.
The decision will likely depend on whether new Grizzlies guard Allen Iverson starts or comes off the bench, with Saunders using Stevenson as Iverson's primary defender. "Either way, what we do [against Memphis] is not going to have a bearing on who is going to be a starter on opening night," Saunders said.
Miller, whom the Wizards acquired in a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves in June, said he wasn't concerned with his role. "It's up to Flip to make the call," Miller said. "If I'm not in there, I'm going to cheer like I am in there. If you've been in my shoes the last three years, you'd understand. I just want to be happy again."
Miller appeared unhappy last season in Minnesota, as he played on his third consecutive lottery team after failing to win more than 24 games in his final two years in Memphis. A celebrated shooter who has made more than 40 percent of his three-point attempts, Miller often refused to shoot and averaged a career-low 9.9 points while shooting just 37.8 percent from three-point range.
Asked if he had a down year, Miller said: "Scoring, yeah. I don't think you judge a season on scoring. If you do that, you'd say some guys on our team are going to have a down year. I think our focus this year has got to be, if you scored less than you scored last year, that doesn't means that you got worse in the offseason. It means you got a better team."
Although Miller had a down year offensively, he led all guards in rebounding with 6.6 per game and had a career-high 4.6 assists. He has played a willing setup man this week. Last Tuesday, he found Haywood cutting to the basket and dropped a perfect bounce pass that Haywood converted into an uncontested two-handed dunk.
"One of the big things Mike does is, he makes the other four guys on the floor better," Saunders said. "He's a great communicator, really knows the game, makes the extra play, does a lot of the dirty work. Everyone knows he has the ability shoot the ball and do those things. But he makes plays and he's a great rebounder. The biggest surprise is his overall game."
Jamison, who shares the same agent as Miller, said he was in Miami a few weeks before the trade wishing his team had someone like Miller, especially after the Wizards finished 29th in three-point shooting at 33 percent. "I mean it makes us that much better," Jamison said. "That's something that was missing."
Miller won't deny that he can still hit shots, but he also won't act as if shooting will solve all of the Wizards' problems.
"I think that numbers speak for themselves, but that's in the past," he said. "One thing I can say is, I can be effective on the floor without even scoring or shooting the basketball. It sounds crazy, but [opponents have] got to account for me on the court. They got to make a decision, do you leave or do you stay? If they make a decision to go, it's on me to make shots."
His teammates are eager to finally see him do that -- but in another pair of shoes.
"They've been on me for it," said Miller, who switched to Nike this season after wearing only Adidas since his sophomore year in high school. "When you're unathletic and white like me, you got to have the lightest shoe out there. They feel good on my feet. I told them: 'No disrespect. I didn't know you guys hated each other like that.' "
Butler has a deal with Nike. Would Miller wear his shoe? "That's what I might go to," Miller said with a laugh. "If they're light enough and they fit my feet right, I'll do it. I'll go out there in Chuck Taylors if they don't hurt my feet."