It’s only a matter of time before someone connects the dots between Mike Miller‘s decision to sign with the Memphis Grizzlies and LeBron James‘ prospects for heading back some day to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Miller, after all, didn’t make his post-amnesty decision in a vacuum. The other teams said to be interested in him β Oklahoma City, Houston, Denver β could offer various combinations of competitiveness, attractive locales, star teammates to do the heavy lifting and other factors to sway Miller’s choice. Money really wasn’t the issue, with the Miami Heat on the hook β per amnesty provisions of the collective bargaining agreement β for an estimated $12.9 million over the next two seasons.
So what clinched it for the Grizzlies over Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the potential of the Thunder? What nudged aside the excitement offered by the Rockets, with Dwight Howard to collapse defenses down from Miller’s preferred “let it fly” zones and James Harden to slice and kick?
Memphis was home. Or at least the closest thing to it, until Mitchell, S.D., lands an NBA franchise.
Sources close to Miller had said in the days before he made up his mind that the Grizzlies were the heavy favorites because he and his family so enjoyed living there during his stint from February 2003 to June 2008. He was traded there by Orlando on his 23rd birthday, stayed until he was 28 and essentially grew up in Memphis as an NBA professional and deep-threat brand name.
Miller was the league’s top rookie in 2001 for Orlando. He had a couple of knockaround seasons in Minnesota and Washington. He had a prime seat on the Heatles’ tour bus from the start, thanks to his five-year, $29 million deal to provide outside scoring over James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
But Miller never contributed as much to, or felt as big a part of, a team as he did with the Grizzlies. He was a integral part of the first real success in franchise history, their run of playoff berths in 2004, 2005 and 2006. In the second of those, no Memphis player scored more points (1,022). In the third, Miller was a runaway winner of the NBA’s Sixth Man award.
In 2006-07, the Grizzlies fell to 22-60 but Miller had his most productive season, posting career highs pretty much across the board, including scoring (18.5 ppg), assists (4.3) and 3-pointers made (202). He still holds the franchise marks for points in a game (45) and a half (27), and goes back ready to add to his 717 3-pointers for the Grizz on 1,778 attempts (a franchise-best 41.4 percent).
Guard Mike Conley was a rookie in Miller’s last Memphis season and he played alongside Marc Gasol‘s brother Pau. Apparently, he doesn’t blame the franchise for trading him on draft night in 2008 in the Kevin Love/O.J. Mayo deal, because it put him in motion to land in and win rings with Miami.
The player Memphis is getting isn’t the same guy who left. That one was healthier and, in an odd way, determined to prove to the Timberwolves and the Wizards that he was more than just a pretty 3-point specialist; he averaged career lows of 3.4 3FGAs per 36 minutes, though his assists bumped up while setting up inferior shooters. The past three seasons, Miller has been a limping, wincing M*A*S*H unit with a variety of ailments, missing 91 games.
Still, the winning, the rings and the notoriety send him back to the Grizzlies as a rejuvenated player. And a man in demand. Memphis ranked last in the NBA in 3-point attempts (1,107, 158 fewer than Chicago and 278 fewer than No. 28 Utah). It was 24th in 3-point accuracy (34.5 percent), which explains the reluctance to launch. Only 14.9 percent of Memphis’ points came on 3-pointers, which put too much burden on its No. 1-ranked defense while allowing its opponents to pack inside vs. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
So what does all this have to do with Miller’s former teammate, the MVP machine in Miami? Miller’s headed back to the place where he established himself, where he felt most at home. He has rings, so that particular pressure is off. There’s a chance to be part of something fresh with the Grizzlies that’s even bigger than what he knew in his first go-round there.
Plug James, the Cavaliers and Cleveland (or Akron, as far as the home base) into the above paragraph and a similar move in 2014 or thereafter, on a grander scale, starts to make sense.