Washington Wizards guard Mike Miller faces possible changes this summer

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 21, 2010; D04

LOS ANGELES -- When word spread that Gilbert Arenas wanted to change jerseys from his trademark No. 0 to No. 6, it was impossible to ignore that there is a member of the Washington Wizards currently in possession of Arenas's desired number. Arenas called to ask Mike Miller for the number, and Miller had no problem handing it over.

But it was tough to tell if Miller was making a sacrifice or if the free-agent-to-be didn't care since he was already making plans to leave. Miller said that it was neither.

"To me, I had no attachment to it," said Miller, who wore No. 33 in seven of his first nine seasons in the NBA. "I can always get a new number. That wasn't a big deal to me, if it was going to keep him happy. If I do come back, there is no other person that I'd rather be happy and playing beside me than him, because for us to be successful, we need a healthy and happy Gilbert Arenas. I think the people of Washington have seen what he can do when he's healthy and playing at a high level."

So, Miller hasn't ruled out a return to Washington? "No, no. Absolutely not," he said. "I'm going to weigh my options, but we're a long, long way from there. It'll be something where I take my time, make the decision and hopefully be part of something special. I have to see if Washington even wants me back."

The Wizards would like to bring back Miller -- an excellent perimeter shooter who can rebound and create for others -- which is one of the reasons they were reluctant to move him at the trade deadline, according to two people with knowledge of the team's thinking.

But given all that Miller has had to deal with in Washington, few could blame him if he decides to go elsewhere this summer.

Asked to describe this season, Miller sucked his teeth, paused for a few seconds and said: "Surprising. That's the word I'd use, just because you go into it expecting one thing, came out with a totally different-looking team."

Miller has had the most injury-plagued season of his career, missing a career-high 28 games because of a sprained left shoulder and a torn right calf muscle, and is on pace to average a career-low in scoring (9.7 points). And, in addition to grossly underachieving early on, the Wizards (21-46) don't come close to resembling the Eastern Conference contender he thought he was joining following a pre-draft day deal with Minnesota.

Their loss Friday night in Portland was their 10th straight, their longest skid since 1995 and it matches the second-longest in franchise history.

Arenas has been suspended for the remainder of the season for bringing guns into the locker room. Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson have all been traded. Josh Howard played four games before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Miller has dealt with losing before, having lost at least 50 games in each of the past three seasons in Memphis and Minnesota. But he said nothing could've prepared him for what happened in Washington.

"I haven't seen this. This is different," Miller said. "The whole thing for me coming in here was being part of something special and I thought we had what it took. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. But whenever you have expectations, you'd better deliver. Otherwise, there's fireworks behind that."

Now Miller is left behind to deal with the rubble. Despite the zaniness around him, Miller is still shooting a career-high 51.1 percent and ranks third in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage at 47.3 percent. Coach Flip Saunders has grown frustrated that Miller doesn't shoot the ball more. Miller's passiveness dogged him in Minnesota last season, but he is attempting fewer shots per game in Washington, even with the team limited offensively.

"There's times where I obviously should've shot more," Miller said, "but there's times where I try to make the right play, too. There is a balance. I apologize if I don't shoot as much. But I think they'd rather have me go out there and play the way I do and not jack up every ball and not be a good teammate."

He said he is looking forward to spending the weekend in Los Angeles, where his wife, Jen, and two sons, Mason and Mavrick, have resided this season. Being apart from his family has made this season more challenging, he said.

"But at the end of the day, I'm a grown man and I won't make any excuses. I have a great life," Miller said.

Jamison, Butler, Haywood and Stevenson have combined to lose just five games since their respective trades to Cleveland and Dallas, while the Wizards have won just four games since the all-star break. Part of Miller wouldn't mind being in their position, but said: "You never want to hate on someone else's success. Those guys have worked hard their whole careers. I wish them the best."

Miller said being a part of a winning atmosphere would likely take precedent when he selects a destination this summer. "I've played 10 years now. I've had some success, but nothing even close to what I want," said Miller, who has made five postseason appearances but hasn't won a playoff game in eight years. "If you're a basketball player and you've been playing for a long period of time, that should be your number one goal. If it's not, then you're playing for the wrong reasons."

As for this tumultuous season, Miller said: "All things happen for a reason. Hopefully, there will be some good at the end of the tunnel."

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