MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Mike Miller thinks the Memphis Grizzlies have exactly what they need to take the next step. It’s a big step: the NBA Finals.
On paper, it looks like Miller is exactly right.
“They’re close,” Miller said. “I think I can help.”
The former Grizzlies guard rejoins the best Grizzlies team he’s ever been a part of. With Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the post and Mike Conley at the point, the team that made its first Western Conference Finals appearance last season looks ready for a Finals run.
Memphis clearly needed a shooter. Miller adds more than shooting, though. His signing brings an added playmaker, added versatility, more necessary room for Gasol and Randolph to roam, space for Conley, guard rebounding, playoff experience and more.
Memphis CEO Jason Levien said Miller was high on the radar for hopes he would be amnestied by the Miami Heat. Memphis kept passing on available shooters, and Miller, 33, fell in place. The Grizzlies officially announced his return on Monday at a public press conference at FedExForum.
The sharpshooter spent five-plus seasons here before helping the Heat win back-to-back NBA championships.
But while Miller was fine with his hired-gun role in Miami, new Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger made it clear that Miller is not a hired gun here.
“Obviously in Miami I was a hired gun for a reason,” Miller said. “You’ve got D-Wade, LeBron and Chris Bosh making decisions, which they should. I’ll be able to do some of the things I used to do, which will be fun to be a part of.”
What he used to do was light it up for the Grizzlies. He holds eight franchise records, including 3-point field goal percentage and 3-point field goals made. Now he goes from key reserve to vital piece if Memphis wants to stay in the Western Conference hunt.
He says health-wise he feels great and had no problems last season.
“He’s part of the fabric of our organization for a long time. It runs a lot deeper than standing out there and making some 3-point shots,” Joerger said. “He is a key missing piece. He gives us versatility, where we can play him as a forward, small forward, power forward. Do you have any idea how excited Zach Randolph is right now? And Marc Gasol is as well. They feel like they’re gonna have some more space.”
There is nowhere Miller would have gotten the kind of welcome he is getting — and will get all season — in Memphis. He walked into the Grand Lobby Monday to loud applause and had to work his way through autograph seekers between interviews. Levien and controlling partner Robert Pera flew to Florida within 24 hours of Miller being amnestied.
Conley owes Miller a year’s worth of paid golf, and Joerger moved briefly to South Dakota to meet with Miller at a charity event.
“He came to South Dakota and told me how good I was and things like that for two or three days. Now back in the gym with him, he’s back to normal,” Miller said.
A Finals run won’t be easy and it was clear the Grizzlies got a break in the conference semifinals when Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook went down. But breaks are part of the game. Gasol wasn’t at full strength, either. This looks to be the break Memphis needed. The biggest off-season question remaining is what number Miller will wear. He wore No. 33 his first Memphis tenure. Marc Gasol now owns those digits.
Miller was asked if he would try to buy Gasol’s number.
“I can’t afford Marc’s number,” he said.
Miller called Gasol and Randolph the best big-man duo in the league and Conley the most underrated player in the game. Add Miller to a lockdown defender in Tony Allen and to Tayshaun Prince’s championship experience and it’s a team Joerger says added another champion and is “getting older, but not old.”
It looks — again, on paper — like Miller is as accurate on Memphis’ future as he is from behind the arc.
“To the fans and the people of Memphis, we’re missed y’all,” Miller said. “I’m so happy to be back. You guys made the decision real easy to come back here. Me and my family are so excited to be back. We have two goals to come back here for, to win a championship and…”
Fan applause interrupted the second goal — to help continue the Grizzlies’ role in the community.
They all know he’ll do the latter. That first goal is top of mind.