Wednesday March 17th, 2010

Andre Miller did not appreciate the question. Did the 76ers let him go because of his age?

"Nope," the 33-year-old point guard said.

Then why did they not re-sign him last summer?

"I just don't think they had the money," said Miller, who then shifted into a complaint about ageism in general. "Steve Nash, he's older, he got a nice deal. Jason Kidd, he got a nice extension -- and they're both older than me. Nobody ever talks about Chauncey Billups [33] around the same age as me, or Jason Terry [32]. Baron [Davis, who will be 31 next month] is creeping up there behind me.

"There are a lot of older guards. I don't know why they continue to talk about my age when I don't play at my age. I guess they don't have anything else to talk about."

On this issue of age, I submit that Miller's response was all wrong. He was playing defense when he should be playing offense. As he anticipates his 34th birthday on Friday, he should be viewing his experience as a strength and not an impending weakness.

Look at what has become of the 76ers since they mistakenly let Miller walk to Portland for two years guaranteed at a total of $14 million. In Philadelphia, he would have provided coach Eddie Jordan with a point guard to execute his Princeton offense and keep the Sixers within reach of the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference. As much as they regret signing Elton Brand, the evaluation that may ultimately doom Jordan (if not president Ed Stefanski, as well) is believing they could get by with Lou Williams and 19-year-old rookie Jrue Holiday on the point.

While I believed Miller was needed in Philadelphia, I also doubted whether he belonged in Portland alongside Brandon Roy, who had grown to dominate the ball to his team's benefit. Didn't the Blazers need scoring more than ball handling?

But Miller was acquired as an asset more than a finishing piece, and his presence enabled Portland to package point guard Steve Blake to the Clippers for center Marcus Camby before the trade deadline last month. Not only has the Blazers' frontcourt been restored, but they also can look forward to the playoffs with a four-guard rotation of Roy and Miller with Jerryd Bayless and Rudy Fernandez coming off the bench.

Apart from a well-publicized argument with coach Nate McMillan at practice in January, Miller's assimilation was unremarkable over the first half of the season. This is how Miller wanted it -- a lesson from his 11-plus years with five teams.

"They did well before I ever got here," Miller said of the Blazers, who won 54 games last season. "So I didn't want to come here and be a distraction. I just wanted to do what I've been doing for years, and that's helping teams get better, helping the star of the team maximize his game."

Could Miller pair with Roy without diminishing him? "A lot of people were saying at the beginning they didn't know if we could play together and all this different type of stuff, which is just total crap," Miller said. "It's just basketball."

Said McMillan: "They are playing off each other. It takes some time, and it takes trust. They do a good job of Brandon allowing Miller to sometimes post up when he has a matchup. And that is experience, that is a level of maturity on Brandon's part in adapting to the team that he has."

Over the last month, both Miller and Roy have grown accustomed to playing off the ball. Their coexistence was preceded, however, by three weeks when Roy was sidelined by a hamstring injury. Miller's leadership was invaluable, especially when he scored a career-best 52 points (on 22-of-31 shooting) to drive Portland to a 114-112 OT win at Dallas on Jan. 30.

"It was a weird game," Miller said. "With guys being injured, I had to be aggressive for the team to win. I was in rhythm but I've had better rhythm nights where I didn't score as many points. I don't know what happened that day."

Yet, Miller knew what he was accomplishing. "In Dallas, you can see everything," he said. "You can see all your statistics because they got the scoreboard on each side of the arena and the middle ones [above the court]. You can't help but to look, so I kind of had an idea."

His teammates were struck by how little the 52 points appeared to mean to him. "It really wasn't a big deal," he said. "We talked about it after the game, and if we'd lost the game, it wouldn't have been a big deal. But it was good to be able to do that and win the game."

The reason Miller should view his experience as a strength is because he has always played like an older man. When Jerry Sloan used to explain the longevity of John Stockton and Karl Malone, he would credit them with playing close to the floor. That's how Miller has always played. If age prevents him from jumping quite as high as he used to, that's no great loss because he barely relied on his vertical leap anyway.

"What is amazing about Miller is he doesn't miss a game and he doesn't miss practice," McMillan said. "So you know he's going to be out there every night. The fact that he's still productive means he can go for a while."

Playing close to the floor adds time to a player's career by limiting the number of harsh landings that must be absorbed by the knees, hips and ankles. It also reduces the number of mistakes made when a player commits to the air and is faced with rash decisions. It now appears as if Miller approached the game in his 20s as if he was preparing himself to play deep into his 30s.

"The goal for me was always to play 15 years," he said. "That was the goal from the start. You have to set some type of goal as far as what level you want to play at. If I would have come out of college as a freshman or sophomore, the goal would probably be 20. But four years from now, I'll be nearly 38 years old."

He stopped to count. Was the math right?

"Yeah, 38," he said. "So that will be 15 years right there. It will depend on how my body is holding up. But if I can play four more years, that will have been a good career for me."

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