The Miami Heat announced Tuesday that Mike Miller has been waived using the amnesty provision in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. The decision ends an injury plagued but undeniably successful return stint in the Sunshine State for the former Florida Gator and Orlando Magic star, a three-year trip that saw him play a reduced role on teams led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh but prove pivotal in a pair of NBA title runs.
Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post first reported the move would come Tuesday afternoon, in advance of the NBA's 11:59 p.m. ET July 16 deadline for teams to use the amnesty provision to shed one contract from their balance sheets. And it did, despite team president Pat Riley's public statement three days earlier that the Heat were not planning to use the amnesty; a subsequent consultation with team owner Micky Arison clearly changed matters.
"This was a very difficult decision for me personally, the Arison family, [coach] Erik [Spoelstra] and the entire Miami Heat organization," Riley said in a team statement. "Mike was one of the best we have ever had here, and will be sorely missed. We wish Mike, his wife Jennifer and their family nothing but the best."
After the announcement, Miller shared gratitude for his time in South Florida:
I want thank the Heat organization, my teammates and the fans for an amazing run #TrulyBlessed
— Mike Miller (@m33m) July 16, 2013
That Miami zapped Miller's contract isn't much of a shock — the 33-year-old shooter's been discussed as a potential amnesty candidate since before the new CBA was even finalized, with stories about his house going on the market serving as grist for the rumor mill. As was the case when the Los Angeles Lakers recently used the amnesty to jettison Metta World Peace, the key motivation behind the Heat waiving Miller is shrinking the luxury-tax tab the team will owe the NBA next summer.
Arison shelled out more than $13.3 million in luxury tax last week, which is a killer chunk of change on top of the hefty paychecks he doled out to the 2012-13 NBA champions. While Riley had said multiple times he hoped to bring the Heat's full roster back, that he'd hate to break up a championship squad and that Miami wasn't planning to use the amnesty, he's not the one signing the checks. (Tuesday's decision seems to lend a bit of context to Riley's recent statement that he thought the Heat should get a tax break.)
Entering Tuesday, Miami had just under $87.1 million in guaranteed salary on its 2013-14 books. With a top-heavy roster built around the big-money contracts of the Big Three, the amnesty provision offers a powerful opportunity to drastically reduce a team's salary commitments, and the steep additional penalties they carry, with a single swing of the axe.
Six players on the Heat roster were eligible for the one-time amnesty — James, Bosh, Wade, Miller, Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem. The first three, obviously, weren't going anywhere. Haslem made 59 starts at power forward last season and makes less money than Miller. Anthony — a key reserve center on Miami's 2011 Finals and 2012 championship team — represented a viable option, considering he barely played last season, but expunging the $7.6 million he's owed over the next two seasons wouldn't cut down the tax bill nearly as much as Miller's $12.8 million, which put the 2000-01 Rookie of the Year on the chopping block.
League rules used to require teams pay $1 in tax for every dollar spent over the luxury tax line. Under the new terms of the 2011 CBA, however, the tax rates increase incrementally depending on how far over the line teams go — $1.50 in tax for every dollar past the line until you reach $5 million over, then $1.75 for every dollar between $5 million and $10 million over, $2.50 in tax for every dollar between $10 million and $15 million, and $3.25 in tax for every dollar between $15 million and $20 million past the line. The '13-'14 luxury tax line has been set at $71.7 million, which put the Heat (as of Tuesday morning) in that last super-high tax bracket.
Shedding the $6.2 million owed Miller for 2013-14 drops them out of that bracket and will save Miami somewhere between $15 million and $17 million in tax bills this season, with estimated savings perhaps rising as high as $40 million over the next two seasons. The Heat must still pay the $12.8 million owed to Miller over the final two years of his contract, and losing Miller still leaves Miami some $9 million over the tax line with a pair of roster slots yet to be filled.
Considering that still keeps Miami in line to pay the luxury tax in three straight years with the massive repeater tax coming in 2014-15, saving money where and when you can makes a lot of sense, and such a significant reduction in '13-'14 tax payments is sure to let Arison rest a bit easier. Amnestying Miller is a move that provides a bit of financial breathing room without facing down the doom-and-gloom, blow-it-up scenario that's floated around discussion of the Heat for at least eight months.
It also doesn't figure to make too big a difference for Miami on the court, where, as NBA.com's John Schuhmann notes, the team still returns nearly 95 percent of its minutes from its second straight championship campaign. Miller was the 10th man on Miami's bench after the team brought in Chris Andersen midseason, and figured to once again slot in behind James, Wade, Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Norris Cole in Miami's wing rotation next season. While Riley, coach Erik Spoelstra and Miller's teammates loved him, he is not an irreplaceable quantity. And if you don't believe me, just ask the man himself:
MIKE MILLER on the Heat: "Me leaving is not going to ruin the train or momentum of this team."
— Joseph Goodman (@JoeGoodmanJr) July 16, 2013
Moreover, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel suggests that chopping down the prospective luxury tax bill by saying goodbye to Miller could open the door to Miami using all or part of its $3.182 million taxpayer midlevel exception — the same instrument the Brooklyn Nets used to sign Andrei Kirilenko last Thursday — to add to this year's roster.
When Miller signed a five-year, $29 million contract to come to the Heat in the summer of 2010, he was thought to be the perfect role-playing complement to the Big Three — a big wing who could help on the glass and defend multiple positions, a canny passer who didn't mind facilitating for others, and a lethal 3-point shooter who would demand attention from opposing defenses and create space for James, Wade and Bosh to operate. Injuries, sadly, largely scuttled that vision.
Miller missed 91 of 230 possible regular season games over his three seasons, suffering injuries to his right thumb, left knee, left ankle and right eye, sustaining multiple blows to the head, needing surgeries to repair his right shoulder and a sports hernia, and struggling with a back injury that severely hobbled him late in the 2012 season. (And that's just the stuff we knew about.) Miller's inability to get and stay on the floor led to frequent speculation about when he'd decide to finally hang 'em up for good.
When he was able to play, he rarely resembled the do-everything super-sub for whom Riley and company had hoped. Sometimes, though, things clicked — and with Miller, that typically tended to come during the postseason, when Miami needed him most.
His best moments in a Heat uniform came at playoff time, whether goofy (the shoeless dominance he showed in consecutive years) or gritty (contributing even in the midst of the complications surrounding his daughter's birth, nailing seven 3-pointers through searing back pain and scoring 23 points in 23 minutes against the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012's title-clinching Game 5, grabbing the offensive rebound that led to James' huge final-minute 3 in Miami's Finals-extending Game 6 comeback against the San Antonio Spurs). He provided that promised shooting, floor-spacing, ball-moving and hustling defense as part of a five-man unit that destroyed the Spurs in the 2013 Finals, combining with James, Allen, Andersen and Chalmers to outscore San Antonio by 29 points in just 16 minutes of shared floor time.
Miller spent large swaths of three regular seasons along for the ride, averaging just under 5.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in about 18 minutes per game as a member of the Heat. When his number was called with titles in the balance, though, he was ready in two straight years, and he'll wind up with a pair of rings to show for it. Not too shabby.
Now, Miller must wait through a 48-hour waiver period during which any team with enough cap space to absorb his full $6.2 million salary can bid for his services — that list, according to ESPN's Nick Silva, is limited to the Dallas Mavericks, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings. Those teams can enter a bid to pay only a part of the full salary, rather than the full amount; the highest bid would win. (The full process is laid out here.)
If no cap-space team makes a bid over the next two days, Miller will clear waivers and be free to sign wherever he'd like. It remains unclear which teams might have interest in his services — two teams to look out for, according to Skolnick, are the Memphis Grizzlies (for whom Miller played from 2003 through 2008) and Oklahoma City Thunder, both of which could use a versatile, floor-spacing shooter off the bench.
For his part, Miller — whose 13-year NBA career has also included stints with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Washington Wizards — says he feels better than he has in a while and wants to once again play on a team with a chance to hoist the O'Brien:
Mike Miller says he wants to play for a contender: "It's the Pringles theory. Once you get that taste, you've got to have more."
— Joseph Goodman (@JoeGoodmanJr) July 16, 2013
Pringles, huh? Mike Miller to the Los Angeles Lakers. Lock it in.