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.


Time to jump on the OKC bandwagon

January 11, 2013

In the midst of the Dwight Howard deal, it was all but certain. David Stern would get the Finals of his dreams — LeBron, Bosh and Wade up against Kobe, Dwight, Nash and Pau. Miami and Los Angeles. Probably the two most dominant players of the 21st century, with a cast of future Hall of Famers to sweeten the deal. I dug it, even predicted it was a lock. But L.A.’s season has turned into a nightmare; I mean, they’re being outclassed … by the Clippers.

At 15-20, the Lakers are far from done. They’re only 4.5 games out of the 8 spot, with, you know, 47 to play. But they’re 12.5 behind the West-leading L.A. Clippers and 12 behind my new favorite to win the West: the Oklahoma City Thunder.

I was getting this blog off the ground (well, technically it’s hardly off the ground) when the James Harden deal happened. For the Thunder, it was far from a horrible deal, but I didn’t understand (then or now) Sam Presti’s rush in dealing one of the NBA’s few billable franchise guys. With Harden, you’ve got a championship-caliber roster; that, in and of itself, is worth holding on to, even if only for a season.

But I also did get Presti’s rush — he didn’t want to be like Cleveland, getting nothing in return as the city watches its franchise star leave in free agency and set the organization back five years. He already committed too much to Serge Ibaka (4 years, $48 million) and probably wouldn’t find a taker for Kendrick Perkins’ oversized deal (around $8 million per over next three years, unless they amnesty him), leaving no wiggle room with max dollars for Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant already on the books.

Even as Harden puts up killer numbers in Houston, the Thunder have to be happy. Their 27-8 clip through 35 games is the league’s second best, only a half game behind CP3’s Clips. Their 15-3 mark against Western Conference opponents can’t be touched, and they’re second in the league (105.4 points per game) in scoring, only trailing, you guessed it, Houston’s 106 ppg. Average margin of victory? Well, they lead the league there, too, besting teams by 9.1 points per night on average.

Perhaps the biggest concern after Harden left for the Rockets was who would facilitate for OKC. Westbrook has been known, for better or worse, as being a shoot first, pass second “point guard” throughout his career, and Harden, though a cold-blooded scorer himself, largely assumed the role of facilitator for OKC, particular in those crucial crunch-time moments. But Westbrook has answered the call, averaging a career-high 8.5 assists per game through 35, an even 3 more per game than his 5.5 average in 2011-12.

Durant (28.1 ppg) and Westbrook (21.8 ppg) remain the team’s dominant scorers, much like last year, but Kevin Martin has assumed Harden’s sixth-man role without much drop-off. Martin’s averaging 15.3 points a night, compared to Harden’s 16.8 ppg last year, and he’s doing it in only 29.9 minutes, compared to Harden’s 31.4.

But that’s not even the main reason I like OKC to come out of the West in my revised predictions. Those reasons are much simpler: the Lakers are a mess, the Clippers aren’t legit, or at least as legit as their record indicates, and the Spurs are too old (yeah, I know, we’ve heard that one before). So expect Durant, Westbrook & Co. to get another shot at the Miami Heat.

Whether they can get past LeBron, well, that’s another story.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.

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