Thursday, July 29, 2010

More Kenny Hasbrouck, Less Eddie House? Why Miami Is Too Old

With the signing of Eddie House, Miami has completed most of its roster moves for the 2009-2010 season. After signing Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and Lebron James, the Heat had to figure out who else to sign with the limited money remaining. With the goal of championships in mind, the Heat went out and signed veteran contributors Mike Miller, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Eddie House, Juwan Howard, and Eddie House. They've been praised for picking up so many shrewd veterans. However, was this truly the best plan to win championships?

The legacy of signing veteran stars to would-be championship contenders is not particularly noteworthy. One can certainly point to the 2006 Miami Heat as a team that was victorious by signing veteran players around a bright young star. However, that team quickly tanked in the next two years, and had to be completely rebuilt. Similarly, the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers had to rebuild the point guard and power forward position after the departures of Karl Malone, Gary Payton, and Horace Grant. And ceremonial stars like Mitch Richmond and Glenn Robinson did nothing for their squads except generate frequent "He's still playing?" comments. Plus, older players may get worn down more easily deep in the season and let the team down. Look at how Rasheed Wallace struggled through Game 7 this year. I argue that Miami's signing plan was directly contradictory to their goal of winning multiple championships.

So what else could Miami have done besides signing these veteran players? If Miami was truly interested in contending for multiple championships, here's an interesting proposal. Why not follow more closely the path of the 2008 Celtics? They had Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, and Glen Davis on the roster when the Big Three signed. All three markedly improved over time; one might argue that the players would have improved regardless, but I doubt it. I believe that stars help younger players to develop. Miami could sign young players to cheap, long-term contracts, and develop them into complementary players to the Big Three. Players like Kenny Hasbrouck, should they pan out, also provide attractive trade pieces because they will be overrated due to playing with stars who mask their deficiencies.

Miami's organizational structure is also excellent for player development, due to a holistic system that even monitors the players' weight. Sure, some of the young players will not improve, but they can be easily jettisoned and replaced, or shuttled to the Development League as needed. And although you hear plenty of talk about how Miami has a recruiting advantage, let me ask you this. Since expansion in the late 80's/early 90's, what successful NBA team has been able to consistently lure high-quality veterans to its organization for less pay? The lessons from the recruitment of McGrady, Iverson, and Shaq this off-season should also show that veteran players can be much harder to deal with than young players.

I understand that after the draft, there are not that many talented rookie free agents out there. I'm not necessarily fond of signing complete rookies either; I would wish to sign players with a few years of professional experience. But the Heat could also sign some Developmental League players with experience, or sign younger European players instead. Players like Charlie Bell, Anthony Parker, Josh Childress, and others passed on some NBA opportunities because the pay was better in Europe. The Celtics' 2007 signing of Eddie House, who had only played for 7 seasons (compared to Mike Miller's 10) to play guard is another example. The ability to play for a top NBA team in a starting position and gain such exposure should be enough of a draw to bring a younger but experienced player back to the States.

It just surprises me that with so many stars in their prime, Miami is taking a "win-now" approach rather than taking a more long-term view. I definitely think this combination can win a championship. I just don't see it being easy to reload and replenish this squad in two years to create a true championship run. While young players in South Beach carry their own risk, the veterans of 2007 and 2008 didn't necessarily seem the most disciplined or energetic, either. In a league where quick, young guards become more important each year, the signings of two guards over 30 (Miller and House, although Miller can also play the 3) are particularly odd, and I believe these choices will come back to hurt the Heat. Thoughts?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mike Miller, NBA Superfriend

Yes, this guy:

Just the other day I was rereading the Free Darko book's excellent section on the 2000 Draft. I'm enough of a draft nerd that this may be my favorite section of the book (sad, I know). Anyway, it said that Mike Miller's friendship with Tracy McGrady was so close that the Magic were concerned about trading away Miller for needed talent because of the effect it would have on Tracy!

Today, I was reading about the Udonis Haslem signing. The article had this fascinating quote from Udonis, who called Miller

My boy from day one. That’s my college roommate. He’s like Dwyane is to me, just a different color.”

Then finally, I looked up Lebron's reaction to the Mike Miller acquisition:

Happy to have sharpshooter and good friend Mike Miller join us. Looking forward to this. Congrats Mike"

I understand that Mike Miller apparently is a pleasant fellow. (To be kinder to him after that first photo, here's a photo of him and his wife after giving $200,000 to a hospital).

But how in the world does a guy who was born in a South Dakota town of 13,000, who had no NBA stars as his relatives (unless you count the scoring records his uncle held at the mighty Dakota Wesleyan, of all places), who loves hunting and fishing, of all things, become such good friends with so many NBA stars? I'm beyond intrigued at this. Someone set up a 6 Degrees of Mike Miller game, or launch a special I-Team investigation. What's his secret? This guy seems to be the definition of who wouldn't fit in an NBA locker room, a small-town boy from nowhere, and he's adored by some of the greatest players. I'm honestly impressed. How does he do it? Guesses are welcome below.