Now that his 14-year-old son, Duane, is at an age when he can fully understand and question what’s going on around him, Andre Miller said he feels more of an obligation to set a good example. When he looks back on the in-game shouting match with Denver Nuggets Coach Brian Shaw that led to a stalemate with the franchise and an eventual trade to the Washington Wizards, Miller is most upset about the embarrassment it caused.
But through some uncomfortable conversations with his son, Miller was able to use his misstep as a chance to impart a lesson that has helped the 38-year-old point guard play 15 seasons in the NBA.
“I told myself coming into this league, if I kept my mouth closed and don’t say anything — just go out and do my job — I’ll last a long time,” Miller said. “I tell my son because my son observes all this: ‘It’s better, regardless if you’re a leader or not, just to keep your mouth closed because this is a business and the coach is going to always be right. And it’s no point in going back and forth.’ ”
Miller will return to Denver on Sunday to face Shaw and the Nuggets for the first time since he left in a trade he felt had to happen.
After the ugly exchange with Shaw late in the second half of a Jan. 1 loss to Philadelphia, Miller spent seven weeks away from a game he takes pride in always being available to play. To Miller, the uncharacteristic blowup went deeper than him being upset about not playing because of a coach’s decision for the first time in his career. Miller believes Shaw sat him as punishment for speaking up on behalf of his teammates at a team meeting.
“I spoke up in a team meeting, privately, behind closed doors, about communication and brought it to the coaching staff because the players on the team asked me to,” Miller said. “That’s why I think I was benched. That’s the only reason. I know what the issue was about and I don’t think it was handled the right way.”
When asked recently about the incident, Shaw described it as a “tough situation” because the first-year coach was in the process of developing other young players at the same position, which made it difficult for Miller to get the minutes he was accustomed to receiving.
“I have all the respect in the world for Andre,” Shaw said. “His reputation as a player has been great throughout his career, and he’s a guy that wants to play and be out on the floor all the time. I’ve always heard as players get older, it’s more and more difficult to coach them, and I remember. I played until I was 37. In our minds we may think we’re one thing, but in reality, it could be something totally different.”
Miller counters that if Shaw really wanted to play other guys, the message could’ve been delivered before the 76ers game. “Me having the amount of years in the league, there was no communication that I was going to sit out a game or be benched or whatever you want to call it,” he said. “For everybody on the team to get in the game and the team is losing and I’m over there sitting down and didn’t get a chance to contribute, that’s what I was upset about. That’s what I took personal.”
The Nuggets initially suspended Miller for two games for conduct detrimental to the team after he berated Shaw. After that, Miller stayed away from the team, admitting he was exiled by choice. Denver would need a point guard after Nate Robinson was sidelined for the remainder of the season because of a knee injury and Ty Lawson missed time because of a fractured rib. But Miller wasn’t receptive when the Nuggets discussed reconciliation.
“They were like, ‘If you come back and apologize, it’ll be all good.’ I wasn’t willing to make that decision. Because of my morals, what I felt was the right thing to do for me,” Miller said. “I was ready to go. You can tell when a team is thinking about possibly going in a different direction. Wasn’t any communication there, and I could just feel the vibe where I was at in the organization, and it was time to move on.
“We both made mistakes. That's just a part of the business when you're coming in, first-time coach and a veteran and me not approaching him and establishing a communication either way. It’s whatever. I’m glad to be where I’m at now.”
While waiting to be traded from the place where he spent most of his career, Miller used his frustration to work out two, sometimes three, times a day. He was also disappointed the incident left him perceived as a disgruntled player who was angry over playing time. “That was never the case,” Miller said. “You can’t say, ‘Oh well, Andre wasn’t being productive’ because it was a top-five bench in the league.
“Sometimes you need to speak up for yourself, and whether I did it the right way or the wrong way, it’s over, but it put into perspective, kind of, how some people view me as a player. I feel like I haven’t received the respect that I deserve,” said Miller, who ranks ninth all time in career assists. “This is a popularity-contest league. Everything that I’ve done has been under radar, so the only thing I really took pride in was being out on the court and being in games and not missing games.”
Former Nuggets coach George Karl said he was “surprised, sad and angry” about how the situation was handled and wishes Miller would’ve been allowed to finish his career in Denver.
“He deserved to be treated better. In my mind, he deserved more respect,” said Karl, an analyst for ESPN. “Players, when they’re sliding down the bad side of the mountain, almost every player has an episode where he’s angry that his career is fading. The image of what happened is not Andre Miller. Andre is a total team guy, a locker room guy, committed guy, a coachable guy. And all the thoughts of what happened there is just taking the one bad day that we all have and staying connected to it, too long.”
Miller said he won’t be especially emotional when he steps on the Pepsi Center floor once again: “Going to try to get in there, get a win and get out. . . . It was a lesson learned, and I just decided I’m going to keep my mouth closed for the amount of time I got left in the league.”