For weeks I’ve been saying that if Andre Miller was Portland’s big move of the summer, I wouldn’t be able to help being disappointed. I’ve known that for some time now and, with Miller being “the” acquisition this July 24th, I was prepared for this moment. So once all the national websites confirmed that Miller was going to sign a 3-year, $22-million contract with a (golden) team option on the third year, I had to take a step back before writing.
So I made myself a sandwich, turned my air-conditioner to “Death to Humidity” mode and plopped down on my couch to let my mind wander. My thoughts, as they usually do, turned to movies.
I saw the original Terminator when I was very young. Probably too young. Back in the days when I couldn’t stay up on the weekdays but on weekends I could watch a rental movie with my Dad after dinner (the best were Friday-Saturday doubleheaders). Pretty much anything “we heard was good” was fair game. At some point I brought home Terminator because I had to see where “I’ll be back” — very popular during recess kickball — came from. And I remember thinking: “Good, not as good as Predator or T2, but good. And OLD.” There was just no comparing Linda Hamilton’s She-Fro and Arnold’s unabomber jacket to the blue-filtered cool of the sequel.
And yet, re-watching Terminator 2 months later, it was all the sudden even better. Sarah Connor’s transformation was dramatic. Ed Furlong’s relationship with Arnold made ironic sense. All the special effects seemed 5x better because of what came before them.
That’s sort of how I feel about this Miller deal. On it’s own, it’s solid, the budget is very reasonable but the product is a little dated, but far from old and busted. But if there’s a follow-up trade of any significance, it could make the original more valuable, thus creating not just a singular solid impact on a team but, as a package, a blockbuster move that could affect the landscape of the NBA.
The Blazers have Andre Miller, Steve Blake and Jerryd Bayless now at PG, along with Nic Batum, Travis Outlaw and Martell Webster at SF. All six players deserve playing time, not all six are going to get it. Whether you like this Miller deal or not, you can’t say the Blazers have accomplished consolidating their young talent. Portland didn’t give anyone up to get Miller, and since they still have $9 million in expiring deals between Blake and Outlaw, a next move seems possible, likely and probably even necessary. Take a risk and bring in a David Lee, Rudy Gay, Gerald Wallace etc…and the Miller move would seem to push Portland further foward than it does today. If Kevin Pritchard doesn’t, the Blazers probably got better in the now, but not enough better, and talented players are left sitting on the bench.
But if the last eight months have taught us anything, it’s that we can’t assume a deal is going to be made. So what does Andre Miller mean to the Blazers today?
As I said before, money-wise there’s not much to dislike. Most of the cap space got eaten up but the Blazers are still flexible with their expiring contracts. It’s going to be tougher to help Utah make a three-team deal since they want immediate financial help, but if the Blazers want to make moves they still can. And in two years that team option is going to be a valuable commodity on the market if Miller ages quicker than expected (keep in mind he’s durable and never depended on speed/hops).
On the plus side, Miller takes a page right out of Stuart Smalley’s book. He’s good enough, he’s smart enough and doggone it, people like him. I won’t pretend to know first-hand what Miller is like in a locker room, but I doubt KP would sign him if there were glaring character concerns, and I doubt people would hate playing with him considering how good of a passer (and giver of easy-to-catch alley oops) he is. His mid-range game allows him to be effective in the pick-and-roll, and much like we said about Turkoglu, Miller is going to make Oden’s life easier because of his ability to find big men on the weakside and cutting to the hoop (see Camby, Marcus). Defensively, he can guard the Chauncy Billups’ of the world because of his side (something Blake couldn’t do) and the answer to the speedier All-Stars was and still is Greg Oden becoming a force in the paint, so that hasn’t changed. On the other hand, a very underappreciated part of Miller’s game is his ability to take smaller guards onto the block. Sure, he’ll have trouble staying in front of Aaron Brooks, but he can destroy Brooks in the paint if you maneuver him the space to work. If there’s one thing to say Miller does that Blake doesn’t, it’s create matchup problems.
Space, however, is going to be an issue. Miller has only twice made more than 20 three’s in a season, and only once (last year) made more than 28% from beyond the arc. That’s hardly preferable when you’ve got LaMarcus Aldridge and Oden roaming around the paint, and it’s easily the biggest hangup of the signing. Realistically when Miller feeds a big man he runs through to the weakside-wing, with Roy at the top and the SF waiting on open 3’s in the corner so Miller can either swing the ball on a kickout or step in for an elbow jumper. That’s hard to do every time down the floor, and Nate McMillan is going to have to get creative when it comes to which SF’s are playing next to Miller — Webster, for example, would be the best compliment of the three for his shooting. We should also note LaMarcus spreads the floor better than many guards, so don’t discount him when evaluating the deal.
Rotations are going to be interesting too. Miller has mostly been successful in up-tempo offenses, and while I doubt Nate takes the reins off completely, I could see Miller starting and then helming a speedier bench unit in the second and late third quarters before getting his blow. That’s where the team’s dynamic could really be altered. He’s already Portland’s best decision maker on the fast break and it’s a talent Nate will have to make adjustments for. Like I said about Bayless last week, you don’t try to force dynamic players to fit into your system, but you fit your system around the talents of your team. Nate is certainly capable of doing this, based on the offense he ran in Seattle vs. Portland.
I could throw a bunch of stats at you, but I’d consider many of them to be meaningless because Miller’s never been on a team like Portland. Only once has he played with a skilled back-to-the-basket big man like LaMarcus, and that was in 2002-03 with Elton Brand, Miller’s worst year of his career in terms of PER (15.2). The Miller you see in the numbers now isn’t going to be the same Miller you see the next two s
So what’s next? We’ve been hearing about David Lee for the last 18 months, so a sign-and-trade for him wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Gerald Wallace is also a possibility if the Blazers decide they want to part with Nic Batum or Jerryd Bayless. Kirk Hinrich, on the other hand, doesn’t seem as likely as he once did, but it’s still a deal I like if Portland can swing him for cheap (Blake/Outlaw). My true darkhorse candidate for trade this summer is Rudy Gay, who is up for a contract extension in Memphis, and I doubt the Grizzlies, based on past history, are going to want to pay up. Gay was a chucker last season, but it’s hard to fault him for that given the situation he was in. He can shoot, he can slash, he can score, he can do athletic things and he’s got the body (like Batum) of a very good defender if taught properly.
Whatever the sequel to this move is, it will probably make the entire summer look much better, just like Terminator 2 did for that action franchise. But until then, while Miller is far from perfect for who the Blazers were last year, he’s good enough at enough things to make next season’s iteration that much better. And like we’ve said all along, a Miller signing was always going to depend on the price, and today, the price — in sacrificing no players and preserving very tradeable assets — was probably right.