All good things must come to an end.
So it seems with the second tenure of Andre Miller with the Denver Nuggets. After his much-publicized blowup with head coach Brian Shaw upon receiving his first career healthy scratch, Miller has been reported by multiple sources as being actively shopped by Tim Connelly and the Nuggets' front office. It is clear that the sometimes fractious relationship Miller has with the Nuggets organization has reached a breaking point. Miller has now missed the last four games with the Nuggets and it's unclear if he will ever see the floor in powder blue and gold again. So far, the Nuggets have reeled off 4 straight wins since his departure, beating the Grizzlies, Lakers, Celtics and Thunder by an average of 17 points per game. 8 straight losses and Andre's subsequent blowup seems to have galvanized this team under Brian Shaw, who has relented with hectoring the Nuggets into running a play every time down the floor and is just letting them ball. The Nuggets are responding, and they're doing it handily - without Andre.
At 37 years old, the 15 year veteran and former Utah Ute is the elder statesman of the Nuggets, 7 years older than the next oldest player on the team, Randy Foye (30) - at age 45, even Brian Shaw is just 8 years older than Miller. During an offseason in which the Nuggets drafted point guard prospect Erick Green (via the Utah Jazz) and acquired guards Randy Foye and Nate Robinson, it became clear that the Nuggets were already planning for Miller's eventual departure from the team.
For his part, Miller has played admirably since the Nuggets re-acquired him from the Portland Trailblazers in 2011 during a draft-day swap involving the much maligned Raymond Felton. He's been a steadying force for a squad that's lacked real leadership at times in the last two seasons, and is by all accounts the consummate floor general. He even won a playoff game against the Golden State Warriors last season with an off-balance last-second layup that I was privileged enough to watch in person.
It is hard to deny, though, that a defined role for Miller on this team has become increasingly obfuscated. Never fleet of foot and now kicking age 40's door down, Miller struggles on his best days to play defense against even moderately quick NBA players often more than 10 years his junior. He was torched by stephen Curry during the playoffs last year, and his feet have only slowed further during the course of this season. As the Nuggets have struggled this season, particularly defensively, his minutes have dwindled as Shaw juggles lineup after lineup looking for a more cohesive defensive unit. With his partner in lob JaVale McGee sidelined and him likely on his way out the door, Denver's status as "lob city" seems in jeopardy indefinitely.
In the instances where he has played the Nuggets often must hide him on the opposition's worst offensive player - or at least its slowest - and constantly switch with him on the perimeter to avoid giving up open looks. With faster options available to run the point in Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson while preserving most of the playmaking ability, it simply doesn't make a lot of sense to run Miller out there when the Nuggets are much better off defensively when he's not on the floor. The speed, youth, and length available in the Nuggets other guard options simply makes them better choices for the team.
Time makes fools of us all, yet 'Dre has resisted its ravages better than most. He recently became ninth in all-time career assists in the history of the NBA (passing Rod Strickland at 8,056), has scored over 15,000 points, and has had his jersey retired by the University of Utah in recognizance of his greatness. While he may never make an NBA Finals, he'll be, in my eyes, the best lob passer to have ever played the game, capable of finding any teammate from anywhere on the floor for an easy layup or dunk. He still brings one of the most dynamic post games in the league as a point guard - one of the lost skillsets in the NBA - and has posted up players a lot bigger and taller than him. He likely will still be in the league for a few more years, as his vast reservoir of experience and ability to command the attention of his teammates will always be in demand.
If Andre Miller has truly played his last game as a Denver Nugget, then we should all feel the twinge of loss that comes with any great player finally departing one's favorite team. He's one of the most special, unique talents in the NBA, and the Nuggets will be hard pressed to find anyone who can replace the distinct abilities that he brings to any team.
Godspeed, Andre Miller, and may angels bearing hotdogs sing thee to thy rest.