Andre Miller is a fascinating NBA player. He’s the oldest person on an NBA roster. He’s a guard, and of the 23 players in NBA history who have played into their 40’s, only six of those guys are guards. Miller joins Jason Kidd, Michael Jordan, Steve Nash, Bob Cousy, and John Stockton as the oldest guards to ever play in the NBA. Depending on how deep of a run the San Antonio Spurs make in the playoffs, he has a chance to be the 18th oldest player (currently 22nd) in NBA history to play in an NBA game.
He started out the season as a mentor type of role for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Flip Saunders brought him aboard to help guys like Zach LaVine and Tyus Jones with the finer details of point guard play. For Jones, it’s to help him develop the pace and control needed in a second unit point guard. For LaVine, it was to make the potentially dynamic wing more comfortable in playmaking no matter what position he was playing. Perhaps, smoothing out some things for Ricky Rubio as a pass-first point guard was also in mind when Flip brought Miller aboard.
The idea was to mix the veterans with the youth and see what came out of the competitive balance. Then the season was tossed into an impossible start following the tragic passing of Flip, and I’m not sure the plan going into training camp was the same as the plan going into those 82 games. The organization’s leader wasn’t there anymore, so the scramble to develop the youth and see what was left from Flip’s vision became the mandate. And unfortunately for Miller, that ended up meaning his minutes were sporadic and his role on the court was undefined.
He was a teacher without many proper applications of those lessons, and the lead by example became murky waters. Eventually, he was bought out and had some harsh but mostly fair words about the Wolves once he ended up in San Antonio to mentor Tim Duncan. From the Star Tribune:
“They’re so talented and they work so hard, and it’s like they’re getting a bad deal because you throw five 19- to 22-year-olds out there to play against men and try to compete for a playoff spot,” Miller said on the podcast. “And you want to teach them the right way, but then you throw them out there and they just get ate up. It’s not fair to them because they’re working hard in practice and then you throw them out there and let them learn like some lost puppies.
“If you don’t have a parent or somebody to teach these guys on the job … you’ve got to mix them in with the veterans and let them learn together instead of throwing them out there by themselves and allowing them to develop a losing mentality.”
“There was no way I was going to stay in Minnesota on a team that never had any goals, from what I thought,” he said. “I didn’t want to sit there and let this be my last year. There were no expectations in Minnesota with that team and which way they wanted to go. It wasn’t communicated, so I was like, ‘If this is my last year, I can’t go out like this.’
Some fans and employees of the organization didn’t take kindly to the words of Miller. I understand where that frustration and anger comes from, but those feelings can also stem from believing young players on a team like this should just get as many minutes as possible to get experience. We view experience as this grand currency and playing time is the only way to manufacture it. However, it’s not the only way to develop and grow as a young player.
There are situations in which competition with veterans for playing time brings out a true competitive nature for the young player. You’re forced to learn schemes and learn game plans. You’re forced to learn how to leverage energy from one taxing day to the next. You’re forced to just flat-out learn. Some players benefit from that environment. Some players benefit from the gobs of experience and playing time thrown their way. For a veteran like Miller, who is in the final year of his career, he wanted to teach with words and actions. He felt the action wasn’t there in proper disbursement.
Maybe Kevin Garnett, Tayshaun Prince, and Andre Miller are no longer the caliber of player to help wean those young guys from practice time into playing time. But that was the design and it’s hard to know what the plan of development would’ve been had chaos and tragedy not befallen the franchise. Miller signed on for something and ended up in a situation he couldn’t have anticipated. Foolishly or ambitiously, people around the team felt they could challenge for a playoff spot going into training camp. That optimism looked prescient after the 8-8 start. By the time Miller was bought out, the Wolves were 18-40.
I can’t speak to the level of communication with roles and direction. I know what I’ve heard but I don’t know enough to be able to judge those comments one way or another. I know Miller is a basketball junkie. He’ll be playing at the YMCA for the next 30 years. He loves just dribbling a basketball back and forth along the baseline 75 minutes before the game. He could be spotted on the pick-up court of Lifetime Fitness when the team was at home. Miller lives to hoop and he didn’t want that final year of his competitive life spent watching young guys get minutes.
It’s selfish and sometimes that’s acceptable. Overall, I thought he was a good influence on the young guys. He played well when he was inserted into the game. He’s a true point guard in both the strictest and loosest definitions of the term. He’s a baller and all he wanted to do was be apart of something special. That something special here needs time to develop. He gets to see if that something special in San Antonio can finally get him a ring. After 17 seasons in the NBA, I hope the professor gets a chance.