A guy like Andre Miller can get lost in the shuffle. A four-year player out of mid-major-at-the-time Utah. Drafted 8th in a deep 1999 NBA Draft class that included the likes of Lamar Odom, Steve Francis, Baron Davis, Richard Hamilton, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, and Elton Brand. Drafted into an organization that has had some great point guards in its history such as Mark Price, Terrell Brandon, Kyrie Irving, Mo Williams, and yes, rookie LeBron James to name a few. Playing for the Cavs at one of the low points in franchise history following the mediocre Fratello era, Miller may always be remembered as the last good player that preceded a great player and era in Cleveland. However, as difficult as it was at the time, without Andre Miller being traded, there would’ve been no LeBron James, no Eastern Conference and pair of Central Division banners hanging in Quicken Loans Arena for the Cavaliers.
My most vivid memories of Miller were that 2001-2002 season, his final of three in Cleveland. He averaged a double double by scoring 16.5 points and handing out nearly 11 assists per night1. On a team that included a much younger Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Wesley Person, Lamond Murray, and Ricky Davis, Miller had emerged as the team’s greatest threat. Miller’s game then very much resembles his game now nearing age 38 on his sixth stop following the Cavs. Miller’s a crafty and steady hand. Never an outside threat, Miller uses his handle and basketball IQ to get to the basket, get to the foul line, and dish to his teammates while the running the show. Andre was so great at sharing that he set the Cavalier franchise season record with 882 assists in his final season in periwinkle blue2. Andre was such a minutes lion that season, playing over 37 minutes per night while posting career highs in assists and rebounds in addition to it being his second-highest scoring season in a 14-year career.
The Cavalier point guard missed just one game in three seasons in Cleveland. I think one of the most impressive statistics to his name is the 73 double-doubles that he had in those 245 games. His Cavalier-high in points was 37 against the playoff-bound Spurs in an overtime win at home, while he handed out 22 assists in a tough loss to the Iverson-led Sixers. He also added three of his four Cav triple-doubles in that third season. Miller’s career numbers in Cleveland hold up to the test of time with 14.5 points, 8.2 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 45% shooting, and 81% from the line. He also had a 20.2 PER and 53.4% true shooting percentage in a Cav uniform. Look no further than Miller’s free throw clip to vouch for his work ethic. After being a sub-70% foul shooter in three of his four seasons as a Ute (including his senior season), he turned it into one of his game’s greatest strengths. He had a certain way of stuffing the stat sheet with the little things, playing bigger than his size and wiser than his age.
As a pre-teen junior high kid just rounding into the near-religious, never-miss-a-game manner that I watch the Cavaliers now, I was in for a harsh lesson on NBA economics. Because as bright as Miller looked in his third season, the elephant in the room was his upcoming free agency. It was believed that Miller was going to want near-max money following the ’02-’03 season. With his talent and the economics of the NBA at the time, it didn’t make sense for the Cavs to pay that price on him. So, they dealt him with one year remaining on his deal in the 2002 offseason, sending him to the Clippers with Bryant Stith for Darius Miles and Harold Jamison. He would go on to play his lone year in Los Angeles and see his numbers dip. When free agency came, he linked up with the Denver Nuggets on a 6-year, $51 million deal with a $10 million dollar signing bonus and escalators that pushed the contract’s numbers even further. He would join rookie Carmelo Anthony on the Nuggets, and they would make first-round exits in their three years together. In fact, Miller has been on a lot of good teams but never a great one. He has made the playoffs nine times (and is looking at a 10th trip with Washington), but he’s never made it past 7 games in any one trip.
The trade, coupled with the trade of the other scoring threat on the team in Lamond Murray to Toronto, set the Cavaliers up to bottom out in the NBA draft. Rookie Carlos Boozer and then-27 Big Z headed up an incredibly young and talented frontcourt, but the backcourt that was a mash-up between Bimbo Coles, Milt Palacio, Smush Parker, Ricky Davis, and Darius Miles ensured that the Cavaliers were headed for a 17-65 campaign, tied for the worst record with Denver of all teams.
When Kevin Hetrick had pitched the idea of #CavsRank to the community of Cavalier bloggers, as his only criteria, he wanted us to focus solely on a player’s time in Cleveland. This presented plenty of tough decisions. Guys like Miller, Terrell Brandon, Ron Harper, Nate Thurmond, Mo Williams, and Shawn Kemp were here for such a short time but either had incredible individual accomplishments or were a key cog on some of the best Cavalier teams. Match them up with Cavalier steady near-lifers like Z, Anderson Varejao, Campy Russell, and Hot Rod Williams, and it makes it really hard to rank these guys. Personally, I had Miller 14th, ahead of Hot Rod, World B. Free, Mo, Kemp, Craig Ehlo, and Mike Mitchell in that order. I also slotted him directly behind Terrell Brandon.
There were two videos that I could find of Miller’s time in Cleveland. The first is in the Rookie-Sophomore Challenge where Miller got booed for laying in what many wanted to be a dunk. The second is a too-little-too-late posterization of Theo Ratliff. Both serve as evidence that Miller’s long and winding career did actually begin in Cleveland.
So, for being seventh in franchise history with 2,015 in just three seasons, missing only one game, earning All-Rookie honors in 1999, and for being a really fun, fundamental, and heady player to watch in his time in Cleveland, Andre Miller stays out of the realm of the elite Cavaliers but rightfully earns recognition on this roster of Cavalier legends. For those 30-win teams of the Wittman and Lucas eras in Cleveland, Miller was the symbol of promise and hope, until suddenly he wasn’t.
(Photo: David Kyle/NBA Getty Images)