Miller helped Adelman sell offense to Wolves
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"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi">MINNEAPOLIS — In Minnesota, he’s known for plaid shirts and flat-brimmed hats, for the
plastic bags of soda and water he totes out of the Target Center after most
games. He’s imposing in his silence, and when he laughs, it’s hard not to
wonder what joke you’ve missed.
Brad Miller might seem like an enigma, but he’s not. He’s a personality.
After 14 seasons as a center in the league, he’s earned that right. He’s no
longer young, no longer much of a factor on the court and just a game away from
retiring when the 2011-12 season ends. He’ll leave the game averaging 11.2
points and 7.1 rebounds, and his next move will be to focus on his Sportsman
Channel show, “Country Boys Outdoors.”
But despite appearing in just 14 games this year after offseason microfracture
surgery on his left knee, the two-time All-Star has been a different kind of
factor for the Timberwolves this season.
On the league’s second-youngest team, Miller, 36, was born five years before
his next oldest teammate, Luke Ridnour. He’s 13 years older than Kevin Love and
16 years older than rookie Derrick Williams, part of a different generation. He
played with Ron Artest a decade before the name change. He fought with
Shaquille O’Neal when Shaq was still wearing the Lakers’ purple and gold. He
was traded for Jalen Rose, one of Michigan’s Fab Five.
It’s not much of an overstatement to say Miller’s
experiences in the league and knowledge of it rival that of the rest of the
Undrafted out of Purdue, Miller signed with Charlotte in 1998, when it was
still the Hornets. After spending time with Chicago and Indiana, Miller found
himself in Sacramento following a sign-and-trade between the Kings and the
Pacers. That was the first time he played for then first-year Timberwolves coach
Rick Adelman. Since then, Miller has traveled to Houston and then Minnesota
with the veteran coach.
“That’s the reason I went to Houston, to play for him,” Miller said.
“I thought he was going to be down there, but he surprised everyone and
took this job. It definitely made it a lot more enjoyable, him being the coach
Some players sign meaningless contracts in order to retire with the teams on
which they spent most of their careers or had their most memorable years. But
Miller, who had his best seasons with Adelman in Sacramento from 2003-06,
doesn’t have to go through the trouble. By virtue of a draft-day trade last
June, he ended up in Minnesota, where Adelman signed a contract just three
months later. Now, Miller can retire with the man who’s coached him through
five of his past nine seasons.
That familiarity with Adelman and his offense added to Miller’s value this
season. Not only does he retain the basketball intelligence that’s compensated
for any lack of athleticism throughout his career, he’s also an expert in the
coach’s scheme. He’s the kind of player who isn’t afraid to hit a teammate in
the head with a back-door pass, fellow big man Anthony Tolliver said, as if to
show them how complex the offense can be, but how easy it is to learn.
“He’s been good with the young guys,” Adelman said. “He’s been
around the game a long time, and he’s very willing to share what he sees on the
court. I think he’s been good to have in with this group.”
In addition to pranks like purchasing embarrassing kiddie backpacks for the
team’s three rookies (Hello Kitty for Malcolm Lee, Disney princesses for Williams
and Justin Bieber appropriately for Ricky Rubio), Miller has also become a
vocal leader in the Timberwolves locker room. He is often the first player to
speak up after games, Tolliver said, and his passion to win hasn’t dulled even
with his reduced role on the court.
At the beginning of the season, the team was unsure whether Miller would take
the court at all. But with Darko Milicic’s fading role and injuries to Nikola
Pekovic, Miller did get limited time. The numbers he posted — averaging 2.2
points — are far off the 15.6 and 15.0 points he recorded in 2004-05 and
2005-06 in Sacramento, but he still was of value to the team’s offense. Miller’s
experience was a key addition to the rest of the young Timberwolves’ raw
ability, which provided a good foil, and he still retains much of his offensive
“Offensively, he really helps us,” Adelman said. “I’m going to
put him in there. For short stretches, he’s really good.”
Eight years after Adelman first met Miller, the coach still remembers what an
asset Miller was in Sacramento. Not only was he a better player than anyone
expected him to be coming out of college, he was also everything the Kings
needed for their offense, Adelman said.
Miller was tough to guard and spaced the floor well, and
even though he wasn’t much of a shot blocker, he still was a smart defensive
player. Those skills are what Adelman thinks of first when he remembers his
time with Miller — “Other than the hunting and all that,” he joked —
not the player who competed in a limited role this season.
Maybe Miller didn’t prove much to Timberwolves fans this season. Maybe they’ll
remember him only for his headband and stature. But Adelman and the 14 younger
teammates who learned from him and were sometimes the brunt of his jokes won’t
forget what he did for them behind the scenes.
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