Bypassing what would have been season-ending back surgery, that would have also put his NBA career in jeopardy, Mike Miller decided that his body would be able to withstand the long haul of the NBA regular and postseason.
Miller has heart. Enough heart to carry him for 20 minutes per contest over the past two years, where he would spend a majority of the time hobbling up and down the court, before retreating to the bench hunched over and laying down to ease the back pain that is radiating his body through every step.
As far as back injuries go, they’re among the worst you can deal with because of the chronic, seething pain that inhabits the body every right or wrong move. Miller has somehow persevered through this, enough to convert 7-of-8 three-pointers in the biggest game of his NBA career during a series where he had played in ten minutes or less in the first four games of the five that were played.
The more captivating fact is that Miller is still constantly putting his body on the line. He’s crashing the boards at all times, averaging 6.1 per 36 minutes last season, plays as good of defense as an ailing forward can play, and goes after every loose ball. He recognizes that he’s not as effective from beyond the arc, so he transfers his energy to other facets of the game, especially the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
The Heat have invested a lot of time and faith into Miller. Despite missing a combined 68 games in the past two years and the Heat possessing the amnesty clause to rid themselves of Miller, the team elected to keep him, even when he came into last season recovering from sports hernia surgery. The team holds out hope that he’ll return to better health, but also kept him around because of how he touches on every part of the court and his commitment to the game.
So, with Miller now set to return, and apparently “feeling good”, the question is where does he end up fitting into the rotation?
It may have been simpler going into the inaugural ‘Big Three’ season or even last year, but certainly not this year. Miami signed three-point shooters in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, both capable of playing Miller’s position, will continue developing point guard Norris Cole, and could potentially end up signing a center who can shoot from the perimeter in Josh Harrellson.
Throw in James Jones and the Heat may just be too stacked on talent from the perimeter and wing players.
Miami is obviously better if they have Mike Miller serving a purpose. He still shot 45 percent from beyond the arc last season and will be healthy for a Heat season opener for the first time, if he doesn’t get injured prior to then through practices, training camps or preseason. However, it’s unlikely that he ends up playing significant minutes with the team planning on monitoring and evaluating him based on how well he can hold his own on both ends of the floor.
The team would love to save him for the postseason, while using him consistently throughout the season in a minor role. Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis will play the majority of the rotation minutes as perimeter help, while Miller can come in and relieve either of those two of their duties. Allen and Lewis will also need monitoring, with Allen being 38-years-old and coming off an injury-plagued season and Lewis being 33 and coming off two consecutive seasons of dealing with injuries.
Miller may end up being needed. Miami won’t want to make Allen or Lewis play near 30 minutes per game, when they could just as easily limit them to 20-25 minutes and give Miller some time off the bench as well. Miller could fit with either of those players since Lewis and Allen can also play multiple positions; Lewis at the three and four, Allen at the two and three.
Miller can play the two or three and could line up next to either of those two which would make the Heat’s offense even more dangerous from beyond the arc, especially if LeBron James is facilitating the show.
The Heat will experiment with lineup’s throughout the regular season, as they utilize it as their laboratory until they unleash the finished product for the postseason. It’s tough to determine what the current rotation is with the power forward spot still up for grabs between Battier, Lewis and Udonis Haslem, which also makes it difficult to determine the rotation off the bench since there are three players with the potential to start.
Allen, Lewis, Cole, Haslem, Miller and Joel Anthony will all be campaigning for minutes. It’ll be up to their performances over the next month that determines who not only will start at the four, but where Mike Miller will also fit into the winning combination.