In recent weeks, the Washington Wizards were one of the busiest teams in the NBA as the trade deadline approached. Washington was determined to upgrade their backup point guard position and they called every single team that had a productive reserve guard and tried to pry them loose.
On Thursday afternoon, Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld succeeded in getting a floor general for his second unit, when he acquired Andre Miller from the Denver Nuggets in a three-team deal that also included the Philadelphia 76ers. Grunfeld only had to part ways with Eric Maynor, Jan Vesely and a 2015 second-round pick. Once the dust settled, Grunfeld was excited about the deal and addressed the media.
“Anytime you can improve your team, you look to do that,” Grunfeld said in a conference call. “Andre is a proven player, a proven veteran, with a lot of experience. He became available to us so we pursued him. We feel like he’s going to add some really good things to our team. … We had a lot of conversations leading up to this date, the trade deadline, and we felt like we wanted to add someone to our roster who would provide some leadership, who had been in a playoff hunt before and who had some experience. We still have a very young backcourt and I think he’s going to add some leadership there and he’s also going to be able to help some of our young big guys on the second unit.”
Miller has averaged 13.6 points, 7.0 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals over the course of his career, which has spanned 14 and a half seasons in the NBA. The 37-year-old is a pass-first point guard, who ranks second among active players and ninth in NBA history in career assists with 8,056. He is one of only eight players in NBA history to record at least 15,000 points and 7,500 assists.
“We wanted to get someone who could come in and lead the second unit, get us in our offense quickly and create some easy opportunities from a playmaking standpoint,” Grunfeld said. “We really wanted to have someone who is a little bit more creative from an offensive standpoint with our second group.”
Miller hasn’t played in a game since early January, when he was suspended by the Nuggets for an altercation with Denver head coach Brian Shaw. The events that led to Miller being traded by Denver didn’t worry Grunfeld and the Wizards once they did their research and looked into the situation.
“We did our homework, and I think that was an isolated incident,” Grunfeld said. “We’re going to move past that. We talked other coaches that he has played for and a lot of other players, and everyone speaks highly about his professionalism and his dedication and his work ethic. Randy Wittman had him during his stint in Cleveland, he was his head coach when first came into the league. I just think that was an isolated incident from all of our research.”
Grunfeld added that Miller is in good shape, and he’s expected to be in uniform for the Wizards as early as Saturday when they face the New Orleans Pelicans.
“He’s been working out every day and he’s very excited to come back and play,” Grunfeld said. “He’s what you call a baller, he loves to play basketball and that’s what he’s all about. I spoke to him this afternoon and he said he’s lost 10 to 12 lbs. since he’s been out. He’s been doing nothing but working out and getting ready. Obviously it’s going to take him a little bit of time to get used to our system and get back in game shape once again, but he’s been in many different systems, seen a lot of different things and he has a high basketball IQ so I’m certain that he’ll pick up things pretty quickly.”
The Wizards had hoped that Maynor could be their answer at backup point guard, but he was having the worst season of his NBA career during his brief stint in Washington.
“Unfortunately, Eric didn’t run the team the way that we wanted him to and when we saw this opportunity to get someone who’s proven, we felt like we had to take advantage of it,” Grunfeld said. “Obviously, he didn’t perform the way we expected him to or even the way he expected himself to frankly. I’m sure it was frustrating for him and he lost a little bit of confidence as he went along. Then, when Garrett stepped in he played well and kept that spot with his good defensive play and good hustle. So, unfortunately for Eric, it didn’t work in the way that we expected or he expected. And when we saw the opportunity to get someone who is really proven and has done it year after year after year, we felt like we had to take advantage of that.”
Washington also had to part ways with Vesely, which was difficult to do since he was their sixth overall pick in 2011 and still just 23 years old. However, he failed to live up to expectations with the Wizards and was horribly inconsistent.
“To get something you have to give up something,” Grunfeld said. “Jan showed some signs, but he wasn’t consistent enough for us. He had some good moments for us, but when he we got some better players his playing time went down. I think he was somewhat frustrated by that. To make this deal work from a salary cap standpoint, you have to give up some salaries. It’s unfortunate, but it’s something that at this time we felt like we needed to do. Anytime you have a first-round pick, you’d like to see him have consistency and develop, but he just didn’t develop to this point as we would’ve liked him to see him do.”
Several Wizards have played with Miller in the past and they’re very excited to play with him again. Grunfeld talked to these players before pulling the trigger on this trade, and they all said positive things about the veteran.
“[Nene] is very excited about having Andre here because he loved playing with him,” Grunfeld said. “Andre also played with Al Harrington in Denver and he played with Martell Webster when they played in Portland together. He’s very familiar with our team. He said he looked at the teams that he thought he could fit in with and looked at the teams that were in the playoff hunt. As he looked around at everything, he saw us as an up-and-coming team and he thought he could come in and help us in our quest to make the playoffs.”
One reason the Wizards did this deal instead of another trade that brought in a backup point guard is because this allowed them to open a roster spot. That will give them an opportunity to sign another player at some point this season.
“We did consider that and I think that’s beneficial for us moving forward,” Grunfeld said. “We’re not necessarily going to use it right away, but it does give us some more options and some flexibility. If the right player becomes available, we do have a roster spot open moving forward.”
Overall, Grunfeld is proud of the Wizards and how they have performed this season.
“We’re in the playoff hunt, we’re in the fifth spot right now. Our goal all along was to make the playoffs and we’ve put ourselves in a position where we’re right there. Obviously, we have to keep winning games and keep fighting for the best possible position, but right now I think we’re learning as we go along and we’re in position to make the playoffs. Hopefully, we continue to improve as we go along and continue to play solid basketball so that we can make it.”
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