What LeBron James and Cleveland Cavs Need from Mike Miller

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What LeBron James and Cleveland Cavs Need from Mike Miller
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Most superheroes work alone.

Superman is a one-man show. Batman has Robin, but not in the Dark Knight series. Spiderman, too, walks to the beat of his own drum.

LeBron James is a different breed of hero. Though it’s undisputed that James is the greatest basketball player in the world, he differs from Superman, Batman and Spiderman.

James needs sidekicks.

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Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh vanished in the 2013-14 NBA Finals, leaving James to singlehandedly take on the mighty San Antonio Spurs. And that went over about as well as the Hulk waiting in line at the DMV.

After ditching Wade, Bosh and the Miami Heat in his grand return to the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer, James will reunite with one of the best sidekicks he’s ever had: Mike Miller.

Miller’s numbers won’t rival those of other Cavaliers like Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins or Kevin Love—should Cleveland swing a deal for him—next year.

But the 34-year-old’s lethal three-point stroke could prove to be the difference in James’ effort to save Cleveland from another year without a championship.

 

Durability

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James and Miller played in Miami for three years and won a pair of titles together, but the latter was amnestied prior to the 2013-14 season.

"Obviously it's always tough passing up money,” Miller told ESPN. “But at the end of the day, being able to team up with LeBron again and getting the chance to win a championship again was too much to pass up.”

Cutting ties with Miller, who had two years left on his deal after missing 87 games with Miami, saved the Heat a reported $30 million in luxury taxes. But it was a mistake.

After three years of playing noticeably injured and limping relentlessly, Miller suited up for all 82 games with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2013-14.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported on July 17—before Cleveland signed Miller, who hit the free-agent market this summer—that the veteran shooter was mulling the idea of having “a fusion surgery to repair bulging discs in his back.”

Whether it takes having surgery, doing yoga, drinking a lot of milk or literally living in the trainer’s office, Miller's health will be critical next season. James and the Cavs will desperately need him in the regular season and in the playoffs.

In James’ now-famous Sports Illustrated letter, he acknowledged the fact that with its current roster, Cleveland isn’t built to win a championship immediately:

I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go.

James is right—the Cavaliers are young. The average age of the team is less than 26 years old.

And that’s why LBJ's sharpshooting buddy is so important.

Miller has been through it all. Raised banners, heartbreaking losses, trade rumors, cold shooting streaks, health problems—you name it, Mike Miller has dealt with it in the NBA.

More than anything else this season, Cleveland will need Miller’s body to hold up. Even if a dip in playing time or an occasional night off is what it takes, the young Cavaliers will rely not only on Miller's knockdown shooting, but on his veteran leadership from the season’s opening tip to the closing buzzer.

 

Consistency

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Miller is a shooter, tried and true.

Everything that he does on the floor revolves around the jumper—his pump-fake is effective, lanes open up in the paint and defenders are pulled from the basket thanks to his jump shot.

Cleveland won’t need Miller to do anything but take and drain open threes. The key, though, is hitting them at a consistent level.

Miller’s playing time will vary throughout the year and it’s unlikely that he'll log a ton of minutes before playoff time. But when he is on the floor, Miller must fire with surgical accuracy.

Granted, other teams know what Miller does. But they also know what James will do if the defense leaves No. 23 unguarded. And so, Miller will get his fair share of looks.

Eric Gay/Associated Press

Miller’s three-point shooting percentage has fluctuated in recent years. In two out of his past four seasons, the former Florida Gator has surpassed 45 percent from downtown. His lowest clip during that span was 36.4 percent with Miami in 2010-11.

On July 24, the Boston Globe reported that Ray Allen was “leaning towards” following James and Miller to Cleveland. The two have reportedly been “lobbying Allen to join them with the resurrected franchise.”

However, Allen’s latest comments to the Hartford Courant on August 2 might dispel the notion of a reunion on the Cavaliers:

I'm not in any rush [to make a decision]. I've played 18 years, and the way I look at my career, I'm content with everything that I've done. I just want to take this summer and see how it goes.

To continue playing, really, the only argument is I can because I'm in great shape. But just because you can doesn't mean you have to. Many people over these last couple of weeks have lobbied for me to continue to play. … My argument for not playing is, I have done a significant amount in my career and I appreciate everything that has come my way and as I've gotten older, I'm 39, there are so many things in life I want to be able to do to affect change — like being around kids full time, which I enjoy.

So at this point I just feel so good about where I am.

While Allen could very well venture to Cleveland, it doesn’t seem probable after his most recent remarks. That means that Miller will most likely be handed the task of being Cleveland’s top three-point shooter.

Will he be up for the challenge? Don't bet against him. Even at 34 years old, Miller is still one of the league’s premier shooters.

If he can knock down three-pointers at a 40-plus rate next season, Cleveland will be just fine without Allen though it could certainly use another sniper.

 

Clutch Shooting

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During his three-year stint with the Heat, Miller shot 41.2 percent from three-point land and averaged 5.4 points per night. Not gargantuan numbers by any means, but Miller’s contribution to James and the Heat transcended the stat sheet.

When Miami closed out the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of the 2011-12 NBA Finals, it was Miller who led the charge with a 23-point barrage from downtown. He hit seven of his eight attempts from beyond the arc and played a huge role in helping James capture his first ring.

Two seasons ago, Miller kept Miami alive in Game 6 of the 2012-13 Finals when he drilled a clutch three-pointer to bring the game within four points with 10 minutes left. He did so with one shoe on.

Miller helped make Allen's miraculous three-pointer possible, as Miami went on to win Game 7 behind a superhuman effort from the King.

 

The Spurs got their revenge last season, making quick work of Miami’s LeBron-against-the-world attack in a mere five games. San Antonio’s fluent ball movement produced quite a contrast with Miami’s stagnant offense.

Miller might not have won the series for Miami, but he could’ve altered the narrative. He’s always been one of the most cold-blooded shooters in the NBA, and James will count on him to keep knocking down big shots in Cleveland.

 

How much can Miller really bring?

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Miller is a gamer. If his body holds up and he's able to play the vast majority of the season—which was proven to be possible with Memphis last year—he'll bring some much-needed shooting and veteran leadership to a young, promising Cavs team.

James will be the star, the headliner and the superhero in Cleveland this year. He'll get all of the glory in victory and all of the blame in defeat.

But Mike Miller, one of LBJ's most crucial sidekicks, will need to bring his A-game if James is to end Cleveland's championship drought and save the people of Ohio from another season of heartache.

 

All stats are accurate courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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