NEW YORK- It's the most unfair question in sports.
"Why, coach of a losing NBA team, aren't you playing the only guys fans want to see, instead of the ones might deserve those minutes more, and probably give you a better chance to win?"
There's no easy way to answer it, and it gets harder and harder not to get annoyed at the person asking it, especially when you get the same version of this query again...and again...and again.
With 27 games to go in the season, and the Knicks now sitting at 17-38 after a 114-96 home loss to the similarly lowly Wizards, Miller better prepare himself for the worst kind of Groundhog's Day.
Questions like this will get asked for as long as the vets are just inconsistent enough to make fans question whether they really do deserve to be out there. There are no sacred cows on this team, or at least there shouldn't be. No one is without flaws, part of the reason that what was a competitive game throughout turned into a blowout down the stretch.
Reggie Bullock is back in a slump, now 10-for-30 in his last two outings after a 2-for-12 showing tonight. Julius Randle had four more turnovers, upping his total to 10 in the last two games. Elfrid Payton continues to thrive on offense (a team high 19 points on 10 shots, to go with eight assists) but his lack of outside shooting continues to be felt during stretches when it seems like every offensive player is being triple-teamed. Bobby Portis lost his game and then his cool, ultimately resulting in an ejection after a tossed ball that looked innocent enough, but apparently not for someone whose reputation proceeds him.
And then there is Taj Gibson, the one player no one ever seems to complain about, probably because he is the walking definition of steady on a team where such a thing is a rarity.
After the game, standing alone by his locker as young Knicks RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson were hosting their usual media throng, Taj reflected on how he's become more coach than player as this season has gone on.
"I go home some days without a voice," he said with a laugh, referring to how he pleads with the younger players to keep their focus when the going gets tough and they're being pulled in different directions. "You're dealing with them going home and being coached, and you're dealing with them coming in the gym and being coached. Their mind kind of wanders, and it's tough."
Gibson knows that everyone outside the locker room is constantly wondering about whether a franchise that has done so much losing for such a long time can possibly be building a positive culture, let alone a sustainable one. He believes it's happening, even if it's difficult to see on nights like tonight.
"We're building a culture. We're trying to build a culture. We're trying to build strong habits, trying to challenge each other, trying to challenge these young guys on a daily basis."
Gibson acknowledges that none of this is easy, and reading between the lines, it's not hard to tell that the young players on this team have helped further recede an already fading hairline.
Unsurprisingly though, he isn't ready to back down from the challenge. "At times, like any other young team, we have adversity. Especially with young teams, you have to get everybody out of their own thing, and everybody has to come together as one, everybody has to sacrifice in order for the team to be successful."
How does he do it? As with any walk of life, communication is key.
"I'm just conversing, getting into every guy from top to bottom, trying to encourage them on how to be professional. It's challenging, but I love it."
Gibson admits that a future in coaching is a goal of his, and from the sound of it, it's a worthy one. He's getting great experience with a team full of talented but highly imperfect young players who show signs but rarely put it them all together.
RJ Barrett, who had been more than a bit rusty coming off his nine-game absence, is probably the best example of this. He started the game off strong with 12 points in the first half, but struggled to keep it going and forced several shots in the final two quarters.
After one easy miss at the rim followed by a Julius Randle offensive rebound and put-back, Barrett was visibly frustrated. Going 0-4 from deep, including three from the corners, couldn't have helped. A slight silver lining: he was 6-for-6 from the line.
Mitchell Robinson was also dominant at times in the first half, but as is often the case, couldn't stay out of foul trouble, resulting in him seeing just 18 minutes of court time (although he made the most of them with 11 points and eight boards, five on the offensive glass).
As for the rest of the young Knicks, it was a mixed bag to put it politely. Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox played a combined 20 minutes and had a shot apiece. Dennis Smith Jr., on the other hand, put up four shots in just six minutes, all in the first half thanks to four turnovers during his stretch of play. Damyean Dotson was again an afterthought, seeing his first action in the fourth quarter as the game was already getting out of hand.
Should any of them have played more? Would, as Mike Miller alluded to, 10 more minutes really make a difference, or is it about more than that, like the things that make Taj Gibson's voice hoarse after a day in the gym? Must there continue to be a balance, despite what everyone in the stands and at home clearly wants to see?
There are no right or wrong answers here, only more questions. Such is life with a team in limbo, aiming for the sun but often stuck in the mud, just trying to gain traction in a car made of mismatched parts.
If the coaches have their way - both those in suits and in uniform - they will not quit the fight any time soon.
Even if they lose their voices in the process.