By CLAY BAILEY
MEMPHIS – Mike Miller had several teams interested in his 3-point shooting as a possible missing link for a long playoff run. It didn’t take him long to figure out where he wanted to be: Memphis.
The sharp-shooting Miller said Tuesday that the Grizzlies are “right there” when it comes to winning a championship with what he calls the NBA’s two best big men in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, an underrated point guard in Mike Conley and a lockdown defender in Tony Allen.
So one of Miller’s first calls after the Miami Heat decided to amnesty him was to the Grizzlies’ chief executive officer Jason Levien. Miller said the two had same idea, “It was a perfect fit and how can we make this work to get back here.”
The two got it done. The Grizzlies announced Tuesday morning that they had signed the best 3-point shooter in franchise history as part of their efforts to improve a team coming off its first Western Conference final.
Memphis did not disclose details of the contract.
Miller was introduced at a midday news conference at the FedExForum, where Miller drew applause from backers as he walked out with new head coach Dave Joerger and a standing ovation after the event.
“We are extraordinarily pleased to welcome Mike Miller back to Memphis,” Levien said in a statement announcing the signing. “Mike is a special figure in our community both on and off the court. Mike is an elite 3-point shooter, as Grizzlies fans know firsthand, and we expect his shooting, play-making, hustle and leadership to be a key component in our team competing with the best in the NBA next season.”
Miller still holds eight franchise records with the Grizzlies, including 3-point shooting percentage and the most 3s made and attempted. He spent parts of six seasons with the Grizzlies from 2003 through 2008. He helped the Heat win the past two NBA titles, and has shot 41 percent from 3-point range in his 13 NBA seasons.
He will collect more than $12 million in salary from the Heat over the next two seasons.
For Miller, money was a consideration along with the opportunity to return to a familiar place with the added bonus of trying put the Grizzlies into the NBA Finals.
“We missed y’all,” Miller told fans at the news conference. “I am so happy to be back. Ten years ago, when I came here, me and my family fell in love with this community and these people. … You guys made the decision real easy to come back here.”
In his previous tenure with the Grizzlies, Miller averaged 14.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists. He shot 47.7 percent from the field, including 41.5 percent from outside the arc.
The 6-foot-8 guard, will be entering his 14th season after being selected out of Florida by Orlando with the fifth overall pick in the 2000 draft. He earned Rookie of the Year honors in his first season with the Magic and also was voted Sixth Man of the Year while with the Grizzlies.
Shooting for a championship
The theme of Tuesday’s announcement was steps to a championship – a different approach from Miller’s first stop in Memphis where the goal was simply to make the playoffs. Miller was part of those Grizzlies’ teams that set the NBA record for most playoff games lost at 12 straight.
Miller now knows what it takes to make the Finals and win a title.
“The difference between making the playoffs and making the Western Conference finals and making the Finals is a huge step,” Miller said. “For this team to make that step … is big. The next step is even harder, and it’s got to be commitment.”
The Grizzlies took nothing for granted pursuing Miller. Levien said he was willing to throw in “the kitchen sink” to secure him. Joerger even went to South Dakota where Miller was attending a charity event. Levien said he told Joerger “don’t come back until you bring Mike with you.”
Joerger said Miller provides not only leadership, but the ability to stretch the floor with his long-range shooting. That should loosen up the inside for the Grizzlies’ low post tandem of Randolph and Gasol.
“Maybe for other teams in the NBA, he’s a hired gun,” Joerger said. “For us, he’s not a hired gun. He’s a part of the fabric of our organization for a long time. He’s part of the community for a long, long time, and it runs a lot deeper than standing out there making some 3-point shots.”
Miller, who has a history of back problems, said he feels better now than he has in years. He went through last season with no problems at all, and will do whatever necessary to help the team win “whether it’s to fill up (Joerger’s) glass of water or make shots.”
“After being a part of a championship team and seeing how hard it is to win, it takes all of that,” Miller said.
Miller held up his Grizzlies jersey without a number. He wore 33 when he was in Memphis before, but Gasol – the defensive player of the year – will be keeping that number. Miller said Gasol is too good to give up a number, and buying it from Gasol doesn’t seem to be an option either.
“I can’t afford Marc’s number,” Miller said.