Thoughts on Reggie Miller's Proposed ComebackGenerally, I refrain from commenting on rumors, because if you wait long enough one of two things happens: the rumor is either proven to be true or it is proven to be false. Then, what remains is either a story worth writing about or something that had not been worth discussing in the first place. You probably have already heard that Reggie Miller is considering coming out of retirement to play for the Boston Celtics. Technically, this is not really even a rumor, since Boston's Danny Ainge confirmed that he has "contacted Reggie and he is contemplating a comeback with us." Let's assume for the sake of discussion that Miller does indeed come out of retirement to play for the Celtics. What will that mean for Boston, the Eastern Conference and Miller's legacy as a player?
Looking at the last issue first, Miller has already secured a place in NBA history as a great three point shooter and clutch playoff performer. People talk about how sad it was to see Willie Mays stick around too long but is he really remembered more for that now than he is for what he achieved during his prime? The one thing that a Miller comeback would wreck is the fact that he spent his entire career with the Indiana Pacers. That is no small thing, either, in an era when players frequently leave via free agency or are traded away. We just saw two great baseball players, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, speak at their recent Hall of Fame induction about how much it meant to them to spend their entire careers in one city.
Reportedly, Boston is interested in having Miller play roughly 15 mpg, with the hope that he would provide three point shooting and veteran leadership. With Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen taking up virtually all of the team's payroll, the Celtics are desperate to find players who are productive and inexpensive; presumably, Miller would play for the veteran's minimum, so the "inexpensive" part of the equation will not be a problem--but how productive can he be at this stage? Miller will turn 42 later this month and he has been retired for two seasons. There have been fewer than 20 players who played in the NBA after the age of 40; most of them were big men who logged a small number of minutes. Only two NBA guards have been productive after their 40th birthday: John Stockton and Michael Jordan. Stockton played until he was 41 years old but earned the last of his 10 All-Star selections when he was 38. Jordan had been retired for three seasons when he came back at age 38. He played two seasons with the Washington Wizards, participating in all 82 games in 2002-03, turning 40 just past the midpoint of that season. That year he made the All-Star team but averaged a career-low 20.0 ppg.
In other words, if Miller returns he will enter uncharted territory for an NBA guard. His career scoring average is 18.2 ppg but the last time he scored that much during a season is 2000-01 and the last time he made the All-Star team is the season before that. Obviously, no one expects Miller to score anywhere close to 18 ppg or to be an All-Star but considering his age and how long he has been retired it is reasonable to wonder if he can still be an effective NBA player even as a reserve. It will take a lot of mental and physical conditioning for him to play in the NBA. What may sound like a good idea in August may not seem so swell in December after playing four games in five nights.
Dikembe Mutombo can play in the NBA past the age of 40 because he can spend most of the game on the bench and still be fresh enough to rebound and block shots in five or ten minute stretches--but Miller's game is based on movement, timing and precision as he uses screens to get open for long jump shots. Miller spent his entire career playing relatively heavy minutes, so coming off of the bench would be a big psychological and physical adjustment. The question then becomes is he really better suited for that role than a younger player that the Celtics could potentially develop into a significant contributor down the road?
If Miller plays 15 mpg then he would average at most seven ppg. During his prime he generally shot better than .400 from three point range but in his last season he shot just .322 and that number is not likely to improve much as a 42 year old playing sporadic minutes. Miller was never known as a great defensive player and it is safe to assume that this aspect of his game has not improved during his retirement. So the bottom line is we are talking about a team signing the oldest shooting guard in NBA history to contribute, in the best case scenario, seven ppg while shooting .400 from three point range--in other words, the Celtics would in effect be signing an older, taller version of Damon Jones (6.6 ppg, .385 three point shooting for Cleveland last season).
If Reggie Miller comes back it is unlikely that he would play more than one season, so it only makes sense to sign him if this year is viewed as a "championship or bust" campaign. Garnett, Pierce and Allen are not youngsters but they should have perhaps a three year window of opportunity as a trio--and it is unlikely that they will take a team all the way to a title in their very first year together. Bringing in Miller is more likely to slow down the two-three year development of the Celtics than it is to lead to a title in year one. That is why in all likelihood cooler heads will prevail and this story--more than a rumor but less than a fact--will fade away.
posted by David Friedman @ 6:37 AM