LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Andre Miller(notes) is too short, too slow and can't jump. That's what everyone used to say, at least. Former Phoenix Suns guard Toby Bailey recalls how critics ripped Miller when they played against each other in high school in Los Angeles. Now, 17 years later, all Bailey can do is laugh.
"When he was in high school you would always say, ' 'Dre is good, but he is not fast enough, not athletic enough and doesn’t jump high enough to do it at the college level," Bailey said recently after watching Miller dominate NBA, overseas and college players in summer pickup games at UCLA. "Than he did it at Utah in college. Then you say he won’t be able to do it on the professional level, but he does the same thing in the NBA."
Miller, now 35, will begin his 13th NBA season when and if the current lockout ends. He's returning to the Denver Nuggets, the second time he's played for them and the sixth time he's changed teams. But regardless of whether Miller's worn the uniform of the Nuggets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers or Portland Trail Blazers, he's proven to be a consistent and sturdy point guard, averaging 14.4 points, 7.2 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 2.6 turnovers per game. And he's played in at least 80 games every season of his career.
Miller has always been disappointed he hasn’t been selected as an All-Star. About the only time you’ll see him on a highlight reel is throwing an alley-oop pass. But as other point guards have come and gone over the past decade, Miller has continued to prosper even though he's received far less recognition than Steve Nash(notes), Jason Kidd(notes) and Chauncey Billups(notes). Miller describes his NBA career "as solid," but feels he'll never truly win the public's respect.
"I doubt it, but I don’t even care," Miller said. "I care what my peers think about me. …I feel like every team I’ve played on I’ve helped to make better."
It was during Miller's first stay in Denver that he finally seemed to be at home in his NBA career. He played well for the Cavaliers and Clippers, but his teams didn't make the playoffs. His first postseason appearance came with the Nuggets in 2004. He was part of a strong young nucleus that included Carmelo Anthony(notes), Nene and Kenyon Martin(notes), and reached the playoffs three consecutive years under coach George Karl. Miller loved Denver enough that he purchased a home in the quiet south suburban area.
Shortly before Christmas 2006, the Nuggets made a blockbuster trade acquiring All-Star guard Allen Iverson(notes) for Miller and forward Joe Smith(notes). The trade was bittersweet for Karl; he loved Miller’s play as a true point guard. Miller took the trade hard after having to cancel a Christmas trip to Denver for his son and start anew in Philadelphia.
“I was a little bit bitter because I was young,” Miller said. “But the past is the past. I just had to realize it was a business. It was definitely a learning experience.”
Iverson was eventually traded to the Detroit Pistons for Chauncey Billups on Nov. 3, 2008. In Billups, the Nuggets received a professional point guard who could fill the void left by Miller’s departure.
"There were so many times in Denver where he always did the right thing," former Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe said of Miller. "He always comes to play, never misses a practice, makes the needed defensive play, and when you need a bucket he can always get it for you. He is an underrated player. He’s just a great player to have on your team.”
Miller made the playoffs in both of his seasons as the Sixers' starting point guard. He signed with the Blazers as a free agent two summers ago, and soon encountered his toughest challenge in terms of fitting in on and off the court.
Miller has been quiet since he was a child, earning that trait from his grandmother, his mother Andrea Robinson said. Shortly after his arrival in Portland, The Oregonian reported that Miller wasn’t trying to endear himself with his teammates off the court. A debate also began over whether Miller or Steve Blake(notes) would start at point guard. Miller eventually won the job, but also made headlines when he engaged in a shouting match with Blazers coach Nate McMillan at one practice.
“I did make some mistakes,” Miller said. “I just had to get used to being back in a city where the focus was all on basketball. It was love-hate for a second, but I made some cool friends. Unfortunately, I had to get moved before I got comfortable.”
The Blazers made two trips to the playoffs with Miller, losing in the first round both times. All the while, Miller still loved Denver where he met his fiancée and never sold his home. On the night of this year's NBA draft, he was driving in Los Angeles when he received a call that he had been traded to the Nuggets.
“I won’t say it was a needed change. I had a good two years in Portland," Miller said. "But it was a good opportunity to go back home where I’m used to the city and the people, so I’m good with that."
The Nuggets team that Miller joins will look a lot different than his previous one. Anthony is now with the New York Knicks. Martin is a free agent, and could be replaced by rookie forward Kenneth Faried(notes). Nene is a coveted free agent who could leave.
Karl, however, is still on the sideline despite overcoming two cancer scares during Miller’s time away.
“I know he has been going through some tough times,” Miller said. “That’s a lot to deal with – the stress, and then coaching guys with a lot of egos. …I always had respect for George Karl.”
The Nuggets were ecstatic to acquire Miller in exchange for Raymond Felton(notes). Like Felton, Miller is expected to come off the bench in favor of young point guard Ty Lawson(notes). Miller has started 915 of his 978 NBA games, including all 81 he played for Portland last season. Even so, he appears to be fine with whatever role the Nuggets give him.
“It will work. I don’t have a choice,” Miller said. "[Lawson’s] a feisty point guard. The main thing is we are going to compete in practice against each other. Whatever happens from there, we got to help each other to make the team get better.”
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