Mike Miller Would Be Nice, But Not Enough for OKC

July 19, 2013

Mike Miller has cleared waivers and appears headed to Oklahoma City, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. Woj is reporting the Thunder are the frontrunners to sign Miller, with just about every other Western Conference contender — San Antonio, Memphis, Houston and Golden State — also mentioned as potential suitors.

The Miami Heat waived Miller earlier this week under the amnesty clause to duck counting his $12.8 million over the next 2 years against the cap. Miami’s still on the hook for Miller’s full salary — $6.2 million in 2013-14 and $6.6 in ’14-15 — but can save considerably in luxury tax penalties under the new CBA. Woj had linked Miller to Cleveland on Wednesday.

Miller cleared waivers after no team claimed the 33-year-old Florida product before Thursday’s 5 p.m. EST deadline. He is free to sign with any team.

As a move draws closer, Miller is also weighing back surgery, Woj reports. Miller has only played one full 82-game slate his entire 13-year career — his rookie season in Orlando.

What would Mike Miller mean to OKC?

Shooting. Lots of shooting.

Miller, a career 41% 3-point shooter, nailed 7-of-8 3s in Miami’s Game 5 elimination win over the Thunder in Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals. The Thunder just lost their most potent 3-point threat, Kevin Martin — who shot a team-best 42.6% from deep last season and was particularly deadly from the corners — to Minnesota.

Spacing for OKC is crucial. Russell Westbrook, a limited long-range scorer himself, and Kevin Durant often command double-teams, leaving role guys like Thabo Sefolosha and, potentially, Miller open. With shooters on the perimeter, it’s that much harder for wing defenders to collapse on drives; if they stay on their man, that means more open lanes for OKC’s 2 stars, and, if they do help, well, open shooters.

And that goes without mentioning that Kendrick Perkins, and his albatross of a contract, is one of the league’s worst offensive players, requiring no defensive attention outside the paint.

Last season, OKC made 7.4 3s per game on 19.4 attempts. About league average. In the postseason, only one team, Houston, attempted more 3s per game (33.7) than OKC (24.7). Miller’s been to the playoffs 8 times, in which he’s converted a very respectable 37.7% of his 3s.

But Miller is not an answer to Martin’s departure.

The competition in the Western Conference is improving. It’s no longer a two-horse race, limited to San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Houston added Dwight Howard, Golden State added Andre Iguodala, the Clippers added Doc Rivers, Jared Dudley, J.J. Redick and Darren Collison, Memphis returns a roster that advanced to the Western Conference Finals, and even San Antonio improved with Marco Belinelli.

With Martin headed north, also gone are 14 points, 10 shots and 28 minutes a night. Your No. 3 scorer. Miller’s a nice piece — a shooter, capable defender with 6’8″ size at the 2, extremely underrated rebounder and even, best case scenario, a double-figure-a-night scorer — but he’s no No. 3 option. Not even a No. 4. Not on a championship team.

Of course Serge Ibaka could be your No. 3 option, and you could lean more on Reggie Jackson, likely to play more than the 14.2 minutes he averaged in 2012-13. The Oklahoman has reported that Derek Fisher’s likely to return for a third consecutive season, bringing (maybe) shooting and championship pedigree.

But Fisher’s not much more than a 3rd point guard. Your only major (but not really major) offseason addition is No. 12 pick Steven Adams, a 19-year-old New Zealand center unlikely to contribute much this season. In 2 years, you’ve went from James Harden to Kevin Martin to … Jeremy Lamb? More will certainly be asked of Lamb, the former Connecticut 2-guard who saw 23 games of garbage time in OKC last year.

In other words, for the tl;dr folks, two points:

  • Kevin Martin, himself a far cry from James Harden’s pre-trade production, darted in free agency, and the Thunder lack a viable replacement.
  • The Western Conference is improving, yet the Thunder are back-pedaling in the primes of their 2 stars, Durant and Westbrook. Aside from a healthy Russ, OKC’s done next to nothing to improve this summer.

No need to sound the panic alarm just yet. The summer is still young.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


3 years later, is Miami’s window closing?

June 23, 2013

The Miami Heat are back-to-back NBA champions. OK, enough of the Sports Illustrated infomercial — this team’s been seriously tested the last 2 years, this year in both the Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Finals, and will have to improve to accomplish a 3-peat, something that has not been done in the NBA by a team not coached by Phil Jackson since the 1960s. Jackson did it twice in the ’90s with MJ, Scottie and the Bulls, and once more at the turn of the century with Kobe, Shaq and the Lakers.

Here’s Miami’s roster headed into next season, player options excluded.

  • Chris Bosh: $19.1 million
  • LeBron James: $19.1 million
  • Dwyane Wade: $18.6 million
  • Mike Miller: $6.2 million
  • Udonis Haslem: $4.4 million
  • Mario Chalmers: $4.0 million
  • Joel Anthony: $3.8 million
  • Shane Battier: $3.3 million
  • Norris Cole: $1.2 million

And the player options.

  • Ray Allen: $3.3 million
  • James Jones: $1.5 million
  • Rashard Lewis: $1.4 million

It’s safe to bank on 10 of these guys returning, barring a major Chris Bosh deal, which I don’t see in the immediate wake of back-to-back titles. Even though he was scoreless in Game 7, Bosh brings a lot to the table on both ends, spacing offensively and a rim protector defensively.

Mike Miller’s an amnesty option, but erasing his $6.2 million off the cap this year and his $6.6 million player option next will hardly cut Miami’s luxury tax bills. (Plus, if not for Mike Miller’s shoeless 3 and all-around intensity in Game 6, who knows if the Heat are NBA champions right now?) Ray Allen’s the only of the three with a player option with market value, and a Boston return’s been rumored — but now that Boston’s clearly en route to blowing the whole thing up, it’s hard to see Ray Ray, 37, leaving Miami for a rebuild effort.

So let’s assume all 12 guys are back, more healthy — costing the Heat close to $86 million, a far cry above the league’s $58.5 million salary cap for next year, first reported by ESPN’s Marc Stein. Miami does not have a selection in Thursday’s NBA Draft.

I think where it gets interesting is a year from now. Miami has, essentially, its entire cap tied up in 3 player options — LeBron and Bosh’s for $20.6 million apiece and Wade’s for $20.1 million. The following year, those options increase to $22.2 for LeBron and Bosh, and $21.6 for Wade. Bosh, 29 now, is not worth the money he’s signed for, and Wade, 31, seems to have health problems at the end of each season, so, barring a major resurgence, it’s hard to see either turning down those options.

This leaves little room for Miami to retool around LeBron; hell, even if they were to amnesty Bosh, Miller, Haslem and Joel Anthony, who combined for 0 points in Game 7, are due about $15 million in player options in 2014-15 that, unless Miami finds a team crazy enough to deal, are sure bets to be exercised. Which is why I expect LeBron, in chase of more championships, to forgo his player option and enter free agency next summer.

And less than 3 years after the ‘Big 3’ came together, largely because of the new restrictive CBA, Miami’s window is closing.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


Game 7 Recap: Heat are NBA champions

June 22, 2013

First off, congratulations to the Miami Heat, who secured back-to-back championships with Thursday’s 95-88 Game 7 win over the San Antonio Spurs. And congratulations to San Antonio, a team that pushed Miami to the brink and back. Ultimately, though, the better team, with the best player, prevailed.

What went right for Miami?

Well, LeBron James. He’s a 4-time regular season MVP and now a 2-time NBA Finals MVP. Sure, LeBron had his struggles in this series, but, boy, did he rise to the occasion in Game 7. 37 points, 12-23 FGs, 5-10 from 3, 8-10 from the foul line, 12 rebounds and a whole lot of terrific defense on San Antonio’s No. 1 guy, Tony Parker, who finished with 10 points (all in the first half) on 3-12. Parker’s 4 assists was his lowest total since Game 4 of the Golden State series, and LeBron’s five 3’s was his highest total since March 29 against the Hornets, err Pelicans.

When the mid-range game is there for LeBron and Dwyane Wade, you don’t have much of a chance against this Miami team. Not only does that open up the floor for Miami’s shooters — Shane Battier finished 6-8 from 3 last night — but it also opens up their driving lanes.

Think about this: Miami got 0 combined points out of Chris Bosh, an 8-time NBA All Star; Ray Allen, whose 3 in Game 6 to force OT is the only reason this game was played; and Mike Miller, who knocked in seven 3’s in Miami’s Game 5 close-out win over the Thunder in last year’s Finals. Yet they still won.

What went wrong for San Antonio?

It has to start with Parker. As good as he was in Game 1, he was just not a factor in the second half of Game 7. How much of that is due to his injured hamstring, how much is due to fatigue and how much is due to his being guarded by the best perimeter defender in today’s NBA … who knows. Probably a healthy mix of the three.

With James guarding Parker, Gregg Popovich, in many cases, used Manu Ginobili as the facilitator. Pop even pulled Parker for Gary Neal down 92-88 late, in a possession that ultimately ended with a Ginobili turnover.

Neal and Danny Green, the darlings of Game 3 when they combined for 51 points, finished a combined 3-9 with 10 points in Game 7. Green seemed to disappear in the moment; in Games 6 and 7, after averaging five 3’s per in the first 5 games of the series, he made 2-11 from deep. Green’s biggest miss came down 85-82, after a stolen inbound pass following a Manu triple, which he rimmed out.

Ginobili had the three ugly turnovers late — one fumbled pass in front of the Spurs sideline, an errant throw in the half-court set and the aforementioned forced jump pass to Tim Duncan — but, in all, he put together a solid bounce-back performance after his miserable 8-turnover Game 6. He tallied 18 points on 6-12 FGs, 5 assists and secured the best +/-, +6, of any San Antonio player.

Duncan (24 points, 12 rebounds and 8-8 from the FT line) and Kawhi Leonard (19 points, 16 rebounds) were the Spurs’ only consistent sources of offense, aside from Ginobili. But Duncan will remember his missed hook shot, followed by a missed tip, with Shane Battier pinned on a fast-break post possession with less than a minute to play for some time; he converts, and the game’s tied at 90. (LeBron helped ice the cake on Miami’s next possession with a mid-range jumper past the right elbow.)

The Spurs, the league’s best passing team, tallied 16, 29 and 21 assists in their Game 1, 3 and 5 wins, respectively; they had 16, 21, 13 and 13 assists in their Game 2, 4, 6 and 7 losses. From 3, San Antonio sank 32 in their 3 wins but only 29 in their 4 losses.

What’s next for this blog?

Good question. With the season over, I won’t stop, at least not like I did in the 2.5 months before this series started. I’ll publish posts this weekend on what’s next for Miami and San Antonio, and hopefully compile some fairly reasonable take on the NBA Draft and the start of free agency.

I appreciate all 10 of you who will read this post. Completely justifies the effort.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


Spurs edition: NBA Finals Game 6 Recap

June 20, 2013

Previously on Armchair 3, we brought you an 800-word recap on Game 6 of the NBA Finals from a Miami perspective. Now, we flip to the road team — how did San Antonio let the championship trophy out of their grasp and what can they do to win the NBA’s most coveted honor for the 5th time since 1999.

San Antonio’s probably kicking themselves after Game 6, a game they really should have won in Miami. But the Heat prevailed in overtime, 103-100, and so it’s on to Game 7. Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan are 4-0 in NBA Finals appearances, one of which (2005) they won in a Game 7. So let’s not be naive and assume San Antonio blew their opportunity Tuesday. This series is far from over.

Wait, how was San Antonio in this one in the first place?

Consider these stats. Manu Ginobili had almost as many turnovers (8) as points (9) in 35 minutes of play, in which the Spurs were a dreadful -21. Tony Parker finished with 8 assists, but shot 6-23 from the field, his second-worst shooting performance of the postseason; he was 3-16 in the Spurs’ Game 6 closeout win over Golden State. In the second half and overtime, Tim Duncan amassed all of 5 points.

San Antonio played about 40 minutes of really efficient basketball, but to say their performance was even among their best postseason would be an overstatement. Sure, Duncan was fantastic in the first half, with 25 points and 8 rebounds. Sure, Parker had his moments, including 5 straight points late in the 4th that almost put this NBA season on ice. Sure, Kawhi Leonard, 22 points, contributed his best scoring night since April 6.

My point: There’s plenty of adjustments San Antonio can make for Game 7. To start, Pop could force more 1-on-1 block touches for Duncan, back to the basket against Chris Bosh. Miami had absolutely no answer for this early. Less isolation ball from Parker, especially when he’s guarded by the league’s best perimeter defender in LeBron James, could also help, though that was only a problem late in regulation and OT. And more open 3-point looks — San Antonio was 5-18 in Game 6; coming into Game 6, Danny Green was averaging 5 3’s per game himself.

The Spurs, the league’s most creative offensive team, only assisted on 13 of the team’s 37 field goals in Game 6. Like I said, room to improve.

Things San Antonio’s needs to carry over to Game 7…

Until LeBron decided to go cray early in the 4th, the Spurs were fantastic in defending James and Dwyane Wade. Pack the lane, force the mid-range jumper. In fact, the strategy was so effective Miami’s run didn’t come until Wade was on the bench in the fourth, with LeBron and Bosh surrounded by shooters in Mario Chalmers (20 points), Ray Allen (9) and Mike Miller (8). The Heat were -15 in Wade’s 37 minutes.

I’d be curious to see Pop’s lineup moves come Game 7. Does he continue to give Boris Diaw big minutes? Diaw played 23 effective minutes, particularly on the defensive end, where, unless he’s catching the ball on the move, LeBron continues to struggle. Tiago Splitter, you would think, is the odd man out — in his 8 minutes Tuesday, the Spurs were -13. With Udonis Haslem out of Miami’s rotation, Splitter’s by far the least athletic player on the floor. He’s a mess offensively, despite 5 points last night, and he can’t match Miami’s speed defensively.

S.A. needs something — I’d say at least 20 combined points — out of Gary Neal and Danny Green. The two combined for only 8 in 65 minutes in Game 6; in Game 3, they scored 24 and 27, respectively. Aside from Leonard, with Manu struggling from deep — he’s 22% this series and 30% these playoffs — these are San Antonio’s only threats from the outside, and thus the only obstacles to doubling Duncan on the block.

Why you’d be crazy to count San Antonio out…

The Spurs are 4-0 in the NBA Finals in the Popovich era. In 2005, the Spurs defeated the Detroit Pistons, then the defending champs boasting one of the top starting units in league history, in a Game 7. Yes, that game was in San Antonio, but the point being Pop, Duncan, Manu and Parker have all been here before. The only player on this Heat team to play in an NBA Finals Game 7 is Ray Allen, who was 3-14 at Staples in the Celtics’ 2010 loss.

I picked San Antonio in 7 before the series started. I’m certainly not flipping now.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


Heat edition: NBA Finals Game 6 Recap

June 19, 2013

After staring blankly at this WordPress document for a half-hour, I’ve decided Game 6 — a 103-100 overtime win for the Heat — warrants two recap posts. So, in this post, I’ll focus on Miami, and Wednesday evening, I’ll publish something from a Spurs perspective. Both will be my best, though probably still feeble, attempts to recap what the hell happened in American Airlines Arena, and look ahead to Game 7.

On LeBron James…

Another first half, same story for LeBron James. LBJ finished the first 2 quarters with only 9 points, and though it was far from a poor showing, I expected more from James in an elimination game. After all, if Miami loses this series, that means LeBron’s 1-3 in his NBA Finals career. Tim Duncan has yet to lose in 5 appearances, Michael Jordan never lost in 6, and Kobe Bryant has lost twice but won 5 times.

LeBron really turned it up early in the fourth — there was a stretch where, per the ESPN telecast, he had scored or assisted on 16 straight Miami points. His intensity on both ends was absolutely sensational, and he brought Miami back from a 10-point deficit to start the quarter on sheer will. His final stat line: 50 minutes, 32 points on 11-26 from the field, 1-5 from 3 and 9-12 from the foul line, 11 assists, 10 rebounds, 3 steals and 6 turnovers.

James had a tough go of things late in the fourth — he turned the ball over on consecutive possessions as the Spurs built a 5-point lead. But he also hit the 3, granted on his second attempt that possession, to cut the lead to 2; a Kawhi Leonard free throw and subsequent Ray Allen 3, after a LeBron miss, would force OT.

As basketball fans, the standard we hold this guy to is insane. Erik Spoelstra and the Heat have seemingly been riding his coattails since the U.S. won gold in London. He’s the best player in the league, best rebounder, scorer and passer on his own team and best defensive player. And I’m sure I’m forgetting something.

For Chris Bosh, a tale of 2 halves…

Bosh finished with a pedestrian 10 points in 39 minutes, but also added 11 rebounds and 2 blocks, one at the end of regulation and another on Danny Green’s game-tying 3-point attempt as time expired in overtime. And it was Bosh, with Duncan on the bench, who secured the board and kicked it out to Ray Allen in what would amount to the game-tying 3 to force OT (and save Miami’s season).

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In the first 24 minutes, though, Bosh was hardly a fan favorite. Duncan, 37, was having his way with CB on the block, finishing with 25 points and 8 rebounds by intermission. To Bosh’s credit, Duncan only scored 5 more in the second half, though I’d attribute much of that to less touches.

A quick anecdote to sum up Bosh’s night: With about 20 seconds left in the 4th, I was messaging a friend about potential Bosh trade ideas. After all, he was destroyed by a 37-year-old forward in an NBA Finals elimination game on his home floor. But then, the rebound and the block happened.

Miami’s role guys: Miller, Allen, Chalmers, Battier & Birdman

I thought Mike Miller was fantastic in this one, and so too did Spo, given he rode Miller, with Wade on the bench, until about the four-and-a-half mark in the 4th with his team’s season on the line. He only scored 8 points on 3-4 shooting — one of his 3’s came with only 1 shoe on — but he gave Spo 30 quality minutes and 7 rebounds. His +/- of +15 was tops among Heat players and only behind Duncan (+16) for the game.

Ray Ray scored 9 tonight, but none more important than the step-back 3 that forced OT; in fact, Allen probably never has nor never will hit a shot that big, unless he sinks a buzzer beater to win Game 7. His defense is also, at least to the naked eye, no longer a glaring liability; Spo even elected to keep him on the floor at the end of regulation and OT, with San Antonio needing a bucket to win or tie.

Mario Chalmers tallied 20 points in 43 minutes, the second-most of any Heat player, as Spo shortened his bench again, meaning a DNP – Coach’s Decision for Norris Cole. Chalmers’ offensive output slowed in the second half, but, aside from a turnover with about a minute left in regulation, he was efficient: 20 points on 7-11 from the field, 4-5 from 3, 4 rebounds and a +13 +/-, trailing only Miller on his team.

Battier and Chris Andersen gave Miami quality defensive minutes; Shane drew a charging foul within seconds of entering the game, and Andersen, subbed in for Bosh, kind of slowed Duncan for periods of the first half. Battier also hit 3-4 from 3 in 13 minutes, and I’d guess he sees more action in Game 7.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Check back later for the San Antonio side of things.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.


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