By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 26, 2009
Mike Miller and Randy Foye, the newest members of the Washington Wizards, made their debut yesterday in the bowels of Verizon Center, squeezed between the excitement of two blockbuster trades in the Eastern Conference made earlier in the day and under the shadow of the NBA draft. Their arrival may have gone unnoticed outside the District, but the Wizards hope that Miller and Foye will help make the team a topic of discussion in April, May and possibly June.
The Wizards traded out of the first round, sending the No. 5 overall pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves, as part of a package that yielded two veteran players -- Miller in his prime, and Foye on the rise -- that can help a team built to win now.
"Sorry to take the excitement out of the draft for you, but we're excited about what we did," Ernie Grunfeld, the Wizards' president of basketball operations, told reporters and season ticket holders at a draft party. "We want to get back to where we were, get back to the playoffs, and when we get there we want to make some noise and bring some excitement to the city. I think these two players are going to help us reach our goals."
After an extensive talent evaluation process, the Wizards determined that none of the players available to them would've been able to make a rotation that features three all-star players in Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler. So with a weak draft full of unknowns, Grunfeld moved on a deal for two established, one-time lottery picks in Miller and Foye.
"They brought in two guys, instead of the number five pick -- who could've been a really talented player, could be an all-star in this league someday, you never know," Miller said of his new team. "But they are trying to win now because they have the pieces now to win. You've got to respect that."
The trade will garner more respect if Miller and Foye can pay dividends in the short term, especially with both players set to become free agents next summer. The Timberwolves used the fifth pick to take Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, the flashy Pete Maravich lookalike who some league executives believe has the potential to be a star.
"We wouldn't have done anything different at all. The only player I would've been upset if he slipped to five, would've been Blake Griffin. But he did go number one," Grunfeld said. "Ricky Rubio, Tyreke Evans, James Harden, we like all of those players, and I think everybody else did. But if we had a choice to get Miller and Foye for any of those players, it wouldn't have been a question whether we do it or not."
Earlier in the day, two of the Wizards' rivals loaded up with major trades, as the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired Shaquille O'Neal and the defending conference champion Orlando Magic added Vince Carter.
"I told Ernie, we must've done something right. We made the trade and then Cleveland made the trade and so does Orlando," Wizards Coach Flip Saunders said jokingly. "From our standpoint, we think we made a drastic improvement and put us in a situation where it's going to be more difficult for teams like that to guard us."
"We had a season ticket holder who told me he was crying last year," Saunders said. "I told him, there won't be no more crying. These guys are going to help us."
Miller is the most accomplished player involved in the trade, a nine-year veteran who has played in Orlando, Memphis and Minnesota and has a résumé that boasts a rookie of the year award, sixth man of the year award and a gold medal as a member of the U.S. men's national team at the FIBA Tournament of the Americas. But Miller hasn't been on a team that won more than 26 games in three years, and hasn't won a playoff game since he was in Orlando seven years ago.
"I've accomplished a lot in this league. I've done this. I've done that. But it doesn't matter," said Miller, who will be a free agent next summer. "You only remember players that are on great teams. This is my 10th year. I haven't had a chance to make a splash in the playoffs, make a big run. I'm all about winning now. I spend a lot of time in the gym, and you want it to be for a reason."
Foye, who averaged a career-high 16.3 points last season, said he thought that his time in Minnesota was coming to an end shortly after new Timberwolves general manager David Kahn dismissed Kevin McHale as coach.
"I was in Minnesota working out for about two weeks and I was like, this just don't feel right," Foye said. "You know when you're not wanted and I felt wanted when Kevin McHale was there. He was thinking about coming back, but once he left, I pretty much knew I had to get out of there. It wasn't anything negative on David Kahn's part. He just wanted new blood. He wanted to bring in new guys, his guys."
Foye said McHale told him that it would be great for him to work with a coach like Saunders, McHale's former college teammate who worked with him in Minnesota for 10 years. "He had Chauncey [Billups] and guys like that," Foye said, adding that "there are definitely no negatives" about sharing the back court with Arenas.
Saunders said the Wizards have four starting spots already secured, with Arenas, Jamison, Butler and Brendan Haywood, with the shooting guard spot open for competition. "Competitions always brings out the best," Saunders said. "I've always said that it's not always important who starts, but who finishes. I think we have guys that are willing to make sacrifices for team success."
Miller had what some considered a down season for him, as he averaged a career-low 9.9 points, but he explained that his role with the Timberwolves was to be more of a playmaker and not a scorer. He said he expects to play a similar role with the Wizards. "I already know whose show it is," Miller said. "I have to be a facilitator rather than a scorer. I got to make the job easier for them, because they are going to make the job easier for us, 90 percent of the time."
Miller has been traded twice in the past two seasons, but he said his emotions about joining the Wizards were "much different" than last season when he was dealt from Memphis to Minnesota. He wasn't troubled by the Wizards' 19-63 season. "This is a unique situation. The record they had last year is no indication of what we can do this year, because of injury," Miller said. "I'm excited for the chance to be a part of a winning team. The last couple of years, it's been tough losing. I'm like that season ticket holder who was crying."
In the second round, the Wizards selected Central Florida guard Jermaine Taylor at No. 32 and immediately shipped him to Houston for what a league source said was $2.5 million.