5 Hidden Risks of Miami Heat Using Amnesty Clause on Mike Miller
Rarely has the release of a part-time, oft-injured player led to such an outpouring of fan emotion. The reaction was mostly appreciation toward Mike Miller rather than outrage toward Micky Arison or any other Miami Heat executive.
Still, the Heat's understandable decision to waive Miller via the amnesty clause—to save roughly $16 million in luxury tax penalties next season—will undeniably leave a void in Miami.
Miller left an impression well in excess of his statistics. He scored 5.4 points in just 139 games over three seasons due to a comically long list of injuries and ailments, from his thumbs to his shoulder to his ankle to his head to his midsection (hernia) to his back.
He left that impression with his spirited style of play, his self-deprecating sense of humor and his knack for the dramatic, whether it was hitting seven three-pointers in Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals or starting a comeback with a one-shoe shot in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals.
One by one, Heat officials, coaches and players made public statements thanking Miller for his contributions, with no statement greater than the organization's decision to take out full-page ads in the three major South Florida newspapers.
"You get real popular when you get the boot," Miller said, laughing about all of the attention.
Miller, for his part, acknowledged that he understood the Heat's decision, even if it hurt. He knew that amnesty was a possibility even after the 2011-12 season, when he auctioned his waterfront house to rent instead for a year. But he had come to believe, as this offseason went on, that he would be sticking around.
Now, after clearing amnesty waivers, he is a free agent, free to sign anywhere but Miami.
So what did the Heat risk by letting him go?
(All quotes for this piece were collected through the course of the author's coverage of the Miami Heat for the Palm Beach Post.)
5. Will His Replacement Fit in as Well?
Erik Spoelstra has repeatedly noted the challenges of fitting into the Miami Heat locker room.
It is filled with strong personalities and differing backgrounds.
Mike Miller, however, hardly had any trouble in that environment.
Often, he was the life of it.
He was closest with his former University of Florida teammate Udonis Haslem, former Memphis Grizzlies teammate Shane Battier and fellow sharpshooter James Jones. But he interacted with everyone, starting a strong friendship with Chris Andersen after singing "Ice Ice Baby" with the tattooed Birdman at Battier's charity Battioke event.
Players raided his locker for his "Let It Fly" energy drinks before games and worked with him on promoting the product.
On the court, Ray Allen developed an elaborate pregame handshake and post-up ritual, one that typically included one of them spinning into an official.
And, when Miller was on the bench, he was the first to side-bump players as they came off the floor, even at risk to his fragile body.
That's why it wasn't surprising to see Dwyane Wade tweet, after the amnesty decision, that Miller was "gone but will NEVER be forgotten.... thanks 4 an amazing 3 years....you will be missed in the locker room by your brothers..#LetItFly."
As Miller put it:
"It was the most unique group of people I’ve ever been around. We all had our unique stuff, but we all were the same in some way, too. It was one of the most special things I’ve been a part of. To me, leaving that is going to be the toughest thing."
And, in that sense, he will be tough to replace.
4. Has the Heat's 'Sacrifice' Message Lost Some Luster?
Since the summer of 2010, when the Miami Heat aligned the Big Three and began to assemble the supporting cast, many outsiders hurled derisive names in their direction.
But the Heat had another characterization of what was transpiring in South Florida:
That became the buzzword used by some players and team executives and used so many times in so many cities by coach Erik Spoelstra that reporters came to know the speech by heart:
"I think the untold story about this group was the willingness of professional athletes to sacrifice for something greater. Virtually everybody on our roster had to sacrifice something financially and, in today’s day and age, you just don’t see that very often."
No, you don't, and that sacrifice extended beyond dollars—to minutes, opportunities and shots.
Mike Miller made all of those sacrifices to be part of a winner, starting when he turned down a more lucrative deal from the New York Knicks to join Miami.
Following the NBA's 2011 collective bargaining negotiations, which resulted in an increasingly expensive luxury tax bill for the league's bigger spenders, it was clear that managing partner Micky Arison would need to sacrifice to keep the core of the Heat together.
The question was how much pain he could take, with Miller's situation providing at least a partial answer. It's hard to blame Arison for viewing Miller, who hardly played during the 27-game winning streak, as a pricey luxury, not worth the $16 million in taxes for a single season.
Still, he could have saved a good chunk of money (roughly $10 million) by using the clause on Joel Anthony, who isn't a healthy Miller's equal as a player.
Arison is still responsible for roughly $16 million in taxes. So yes, he is still sacrificing plenty. But he has shown that, for the organization, that sacrifice has a limit.
It will be interesting to see if, in the future, the same will be true for players on the roster.
3. Will Others Rise in Big Moments?
In retrospect, what Mike Miller did for the Miami Heat seems even more remarkable.
Did he give them full value for his contract? Not really. Injuries did not allow that.
Still, he stunningly rose to the occasion.
He returned from one thumb injury, and played with another, for a role in the "Big Five" lineup—with Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James—that propelled the Heat to the 2011 NBA Finals.
Then, with his hernia and back bothering him so much that he required epidural shots during the 2012 playoffs and started to consider retirement, Miller made seven three-pointers to close out the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of the 2012 finals.
And then, after sitting for much of the season and the first two rounds of the playoffs, he was so deadly from deep late in the Eastern Conference Finals and early in the NBA Finals that Erik Spoelstra made him a starter for the last four games against the San Antonio Spurs, three of which the Heat won.
Few in Heat history have gone from zero to 60 the way Miller did.
He did it because he stayed ready, through three-on-three games with the Heat's other out-of-rotation veterans and through extra shooting after his early cab rides to the arena.
And, then, when he finally got his chances, he let it fly.
Now that he's flown the coop, it will be a challenge to find a replacement for his poise and precision in the moments that matter most.
2. Could He Come Back to Haunt Them?
Mike Miller didn't always have a clear grasp of the NBA's amnesty provision.
He knew he was a candidate but mistakenly believed—during the 2011-12 season—that the Miami Heat were compelled by league rule to use it during the first two years of his contract. He later learned that was not the case and that it made more sense for the Heat to wait another year, when their luxury tax penalties would be far greater, to let him go.
Once let go, Miller fully understood the situation.
He was already eyeing Western contenders, such as the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies, and hoping that he would clear amnesty waivers so he wouldn't be forced to join a team like the Cleveland Cavaliers without a chance at a championship.
"Obviously, after leaving here," he said, "it’s going to be very, very tough not to play for a contender, or at least try to. I’m ready to play. I’ve just got to look at my options."
Miller played in Memphis for several seasons, and his family enjoyed it there. Still, Oklahoma City emerged as the favorite, due to its need for a perimeter shooter (a need Memphis shares), its opening for minutes (with Kevin Martin gone), its recent history (reaching the NBA Finals in 2012) and its two now-healthy superstars (Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook).
Miller's addition won't necessarily make the Thunder the strong favorites in the West, but it will keep them slightly ahead of the the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors.
Even without Miller, the Heat are the favorites in the East.
And wouldn't that be something, considering what happened in 2012: Miller stroking three-pointers for the Thunder against the Heat. He could help exact some revenge for the Thunder for that missed opportunity. And he could exact a little for himself, for the amnesty.
If Miller gets hot in Thunder blue, Micky Arison might regret not going a little deeper into the red.
1. His Presence Helped Save Dwyane Wade from Stress
Dwyane Wade liked a lot of things about having Mike Miller as a teammate.
Their lockers were next to each other at home, which led to plenty of joking around. But Miller's presence on the roster was even more important to Wade.
No, they didn't play together as much as many expected when Miller signed in 2010.
But, especially during the 2012-13 season, Miller served as the Heat's emergency starter, the one that Erik Spoelstra could call out of the bullpen when Wade's body required a little rest.
Wade didn't need to rush back to the lineup, not when a former Rookie of the Year could replace him, a player with whom LeBron James was entirely comfortable. At times, James played better with Miller than with Wade, simply due to Miller's ability as a floor-spacer.
Miller was 15-2 as a starter during the regular season, all in games that Wade missed.
That included a 10-1 record after Spoelstra went to the maintenance program, allowing Wade to heal from three bone bruises in his right knee.
Two of them did heal and, while Wade struggled with the other during the playoffs, it's possible that Wade wouldn't have made it that far if he had pushed himself in late March and early April.
That luxury is now gone. Ray Allen will be 38 when next season starts, and the Heat would rather not play him more than his 25.8 minute average in 2012-13 nor push him back into the starting lineup when Wade sits.
Shane Battier is 34 and has played more power forward than off guard for Miami.
James Jones is around. He is as accurate from distance as Miller, but he isn't as multi-skilled.
So when will losing Miller hurt the most?
When Wade is hurting.