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Mike Miller trying to help Nuggets keep perspective

Across 16 seasons in the NBA, veteran marksman Mike Miller has seen it all. He’s been on championship teams and a part of lottery finishes. He’s been a starter and he’s been the sixth man. He’s been injured and he’s been out of the rotation – which he has been for most of this season with the young and upcoming Nuggets. Many will question why the 36-year old joined a Denver team that wasn’t set to contend for the playoffs, much less a title?

“I like the pieces. I think it’s a challenge,” Miller told me about his decision to join the bottom-dwelling Nuggets. “I love coach [Mike] Malone, I think he does a great job. Got to know him a little bit before I made the decision and to me it’s all about the growth of it, right? And so this is completely different than anything in the last five years that I’ve been a part of, everything in the last five years has been LeBron and we had a chance to win a championship every year. So it’s building that culture now, take what you learn, I think the most things was they said that the difference between what wisdom is, is the knowledge applied. Some people have knowledge and some people have wisdom. Wisdom is the knowledge applied and I think I got a lot of knowledge because I played so long, I played on winning teams, I’ve seen championship teams, I’ve seen bad teams, so now can you take that knowledge and apply it in the locker room and build culture and help build culture, I thought that was a nice challenge and fun challenge for me to be a part of.”

The Nuggets offered Miller a three-year deal worth $12 million back in 2014, but he couldn’t turn down the opportunity to play alongside old buddy LeBron James with the chance to win another championship. He was barely used in the NBA Finals, and then traded to Portland over the summer in a cap-clearing move. Miller reached a buyout agreement with Portland and signed a one-year contract with the Nuggets just before the start of training camp.

The South Dakota native has been a fringe player in Coach Mike Malone’s rotation, averaging 1.3 points in 7.7 minutes per game – the first time in his career he has averaged under ten. He’s only played 58 minutes since the start of February and recorded DNP–Coach’s Decision stat lines in 15 of his last seventeen games, but his real value to the team has little to do with on-court activity.

“It’s tough, it’s different,” Miller said of adjusting to a part-time role. “Obviously, I would still love to be playing a lot of minutes but its part of it and to me every person in this locker room feels like they want to play, but for me it’s taking the situation you’re in and making the most of it. I feel like being in this locker room with these guys every day, going through the practices, going through the shootarounds, you can make more of an impact when you talk to them and I think that’s a big key.”

The sharpshooting veteran has carved out a sizable place in Denver’s rehabilitating locker room culture and been a steady presence in helping along youngsters Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Nikola Jokic and others. He even took up the challenge of coaching Mudiay and acting like a de-facto shooting coach, working with the rookie in practice.

“I’ve tried to help out, I don’t know how helpful I’ve been, you’d have to those guys that, but the young talent here is great.,” said Miller, whose 1,581 triples rank 20th all-time, just being surpassed by Stephen Curry over the weekend. “They’re all on the path to the right direction and now it’s just a matter of how much they want it and how hard they want to work. But the talent they have right now is good.”

Hampered by a bad back, Miller debated retiring in summer 2012 and he is no longer the slashing playmaker of his NBA youth. He’s now a smooth-shooting veteran presence and it’s a role he’s seemingly been preparing for his entire career. Miller is a big believer of the importance of some veteran leadership in the locker room.

“I think it’s very important,” Miller says. “I think it’s really kind of lost in it because its one thing to have young talent, but they got to see the process, they got to understand there’s a fine line between talented guys that made it 2-3 years in this league and guys that have made it 15-16, even 20 like KG, there’s a reason, right? So I think it’s very important, its help builds a culture in the locker rooms and practice facility.”

The Magic selected Miller out of Florida with the fifth pick in the 2000 draft and he went on to beat out top overall pick Kenyon Martin for the league’s rookie of the year award. Throughout his first few years in the league, Miller talked to veteran teammates such as Darrell Armstrong, Patrick Ewing, and Horace Grant about what it took to have staying power in the NBA. The 6-foot-8, 218-pound forward knew that most players who make it to the league don’t last longer than a handful of years, but he was determined to not become one of them.

“Very proud,” said Miller, on a one-year, $1.5 million contract. “When I decided to go to the University of Florida, almost 20 years ago, 19 years ago, if someone would of told me that I played so far 16 years in this league, won Rookie of the Year, 6th man of the year, had two championships, I would of thought they were crazy. So for me it’s been a complete blessing. I’ve stuck to what I know best and that’s work hard everyday and most of the time when you do that and you pay attention to the details and you work hard, it’s like we talked about earlier, I played 16 years, and I’ve seen guys out of this league that have a lot more talent then I have but I’ve taken a lot of pride in showing up for work everyday and doing the things I’m supposed to do.”

Miller told me that he’s made no decisions about a potential retirement. He will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer, but says he’s finally feeling fresh. The Nuggets appear to be open to a reunion and appreciate his work as a steady locker room presence for the young players. He has made over 95 million dollars just on salary, but he believes that he has more basketball left in him.

“Obviously, given the right situation I’d definitely look at it,” Miller said about the idea of one day coaching. “Right now I still feel good, I’m healthy and the one thing about it is when you walk out of this, the locker room and stop playing, it’s over and I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet. Every year at the end of the year I always assess things to see where I’m at and obviously coaching and being around basketball is something I’ve loved, I’ve done it my entire life so I’ll definitely look at it in the future.”

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