Where Are They Now: Andre Miller

Where Are They Now:Andre Miller

One of the Most Respected Guards of His Generation Reflects on His Early Days in Cleveland

by Joe Gabriele (@CavsJoeG)
12/10/20 | Cavs.com

Three seasons.

That’s as long as Andre Miller played in Cleveland.

Did that surprise you? It did, me.

Didn’t it seem like Andre Miller cut out a nice career in Cleveland? It was just three years with the Cavs before embarking on an NBA odyssey that took him to Portland, Los Angeles, Washington, Sacramento, Minnesota, San Antonio and two separate stops in Denver.

One might also think that a guy that bounced around that much was a problem child, but the opposite is true.

Andre Miller, by all accounts – including those of several Cavs employees who remember him from his tenure here – is the greatest guy imaginable. Approachable, humble, soft-spoken, genuine.

In terms of his dependability, Miller played in all 82 games nine times during his 17-year NBA career – including twice in Cleveland, where he missed just a single game in those three seasons.

He also did something in Cleveland that no Cavalier before or after – not LeBron James, not Mark Price – had done: he led the NBA in assists and averaged double-figures doing so – piling up a league-best 882 dimes in 2001-02, averaging 10.9 per on a team that won 29 games (and on which he was the second-leading scorer at 16.5ppg).

And Miller – a crafty ballhandler and cerebral playmaker who excelled in the midrange game – continued his excellence throughout the remainder of his career. He holds the unfortunate distinction of being the only player in NBA history to have notched at least 16,000 career points, 8,000 assists and 1,500 steals without ever being named an All-Star.

The native Angeleno put together one of college hoops most incredible Tournament runs with Rick Majerus’ surprising Utah team – and along with Keith Van Horn, (former Cavalier) Michael Doleac and (former Charge head coach) Alex Jensen propelled the Utes all the way to the 1998 title game, where they fell to Kentucky.

Cleveland tabbed the All-American with the 8th overall pick the following June (with a pick acquired from Boston in exchange for Vitaly Potapenko). With their own pick at No. 11, they selected “the Alaskan Assassin” – Duke’s Trajan Langdon.

The summer after setting the franchise mark in assists, after 245 games in Cleveland, Miller was dealt – along with Bryant Stith – to the Clippers in exchange for Darius Miles and Harold Jamison.

The rest, as they say, is history.

We reached out to the former Cavalier guard – and while he relaxed at his West Coast home, he recalled his days playing North Coast hoops in today’s installment of Where Are They Now

Andre Miller still holds the Cavaliers single season record in assist (882) and average per game (10.9apg).
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

So, first things first, what are you up to these days?

Andre Miller: I’m staying out of the way with all this pandemic stuff.

But I just joined up with, it’s a prep school, it’s called Balboa School. I’ve been helping coach the postgraduate team. And that’s pretty much it. It’s pretty rough during the pandemic – kids don’t get a chance to play as much; there’s no gym access. It’s not easy.

But I like it. It’s my first time coaching and it keeps me pretty busy. I’m enjoying the experience. It’s been fun so far. I don’t know how long I’ll do it, but for the time being I’m enjoying it.

Before getting drafted by Cleveland, you put together that incredible run at Utah. Nobody had really heard of Utah basketball before that team. How did the program catch that lightning in a bottle?

Miller: I think they did a great job recruiting.

Actually, the guy that recruited me – Donny Daniels – went to my high school and went to Utah and coached there for a number of years. He was also at Fullerton, UCLA, then I think he just retired from Gonzaga after a nice little stretch.

So, he went to my high school. And he came and recruited me.

Everything else was just the rest of the class that came in with: me, Mike Doleac, Alex Jensen, Drew Hansen. It was a solid recruiting class. And when we came in, Keith Van Horn had just finished his freshman year.

They were trying to build a program and we came in at the right time and it worked out.

We were blessed enough to all come in at the same time. Humble guys from great families. We respected each other and we worked hard. We enjoyed the experience.

As a southern California kid, what went through your mind when you were drafted by the Cavaliers?

Miller: I didn’t know too much about Cleveland, but a couple of my godbrothers from Los Angeles went to school at Wilberforce University, and one of my godbrothers ended up living there while I was playing in Cleveland. So, I had somebody that I could hang around with outside of basketball.

But those first three years in Cleveland were a great experience.

I met some good friends while I was out there – just solid, humble people. They didn’t get caught up in the lifestyle of the NBA, they’re just hardworking people. And that’s why I enjoyed my experience there.

Did it help coming in with Trajan Langdon?

Miller: Yes it did. Me and Trajan bonded early – just both us being lottery picks and being new to the NBA. We had to rely on each other, and we did a lot of talking on the floor.

Just learning how to deal with the NBA together made it easier for both of us.

How were you able to average almost 11 assists and lead the league for a struggling team that really wasn’t loaded with many offensive weapons?

Miller: The good thing was that I had some veterans that were very good. We just couldn’t win at the time.

The NBA around that time was very, very competitive, and me being a young guy, I just enjoyed my experience regardless of the wins – we just couldn’t muster up the wins.

"When I was coming in and playing in college, it was like a sin for a point guard to be shooting threes like that. But if I had the trust of a coach, management and teammates where you could just freely go out and shoot the ball without any repercussions, I think I’d have fared well."

My job was just to be a solid point guard and keep everybody involved in what was going on in the game. So, I don’t know how I averaged that amount of assists, but it was fun.

That was a good year for me.

The league was so much different from your early days. Are you a fan of today’s game?

Miller: The the only issue I have with today’s game is the physical part, guys coming in and not really having to earn it.

I love how the ball gets up – the shooting, the up-tempo. But there’s not much defense out there now and I miss the physical part of the game. People are gonna get tired of scoring all the time – 125, 130 points a game – people want to see that competitive part of the game on the defensive end and that makes the game authentic – that physical part.

So that’s the only issue that I have. But everything else is great.

It’s evolving into a scorer’s league for the point guard, and that’s good for the game.

How would you fare in today’s game?

Miller: I think I would have done well. I think I could guard the guards. I thought I was a solid shooter, a respectable shooter.

I don’t think I’d be chucking up threes the way they are now. But the thing is: it’s encouraged now.

When I was coming in and playing in college, it was like a sin for a point guard to be shooting threes like that. But if I had the trust of a coach, management and teammates where you could just freely go out and shoot the ball without any repercussions, I think I’d have fared well.

The toughest part of shooting the ball is shooting when every shot counts. All the pressure of shooting a three-pointer where every shot counts.

But when you have guys just chucking it up and chucking it up, there is no repercussion. It’s actually encouraged.

So, like, just imagine if these guys who are shooting threes today had real repercussions for missing. ‘Hey, come over here and sit on the bench for shooting all them damn shots!’

They’re encouraging the kid from the 76ers to shoot threes and he won’t shoot threes because that’s just not part of the personality of his game. If that was my generation, they’d be like: ‘Aye, this kid can’t shoot at all. ’Kid … don’t shoot it.’

How frustrating was it for you, and as a team, that Zydrunas Ilgauskas was unable to stay healthy back then?

Miller: That was really big, especially for a guy like me – to have a guy that tall, that mobile who could shoot, he could pass, he could defend and he could hold down the paint. And he was super-smart.

So, not having that guy in the middle really hurt our team and I still remember when he got hurt. It was one of those things where you had to move on.

I didn’t know if he’d ever come back, just because of his size. But he was able to fight through it and play some really good years with LeBron. I’m happy he was able to fight through that injury.

What was the personality of those Cavalier teams?

Miller: Overall, it was a quiet personality. Because you had a lot of guys that were quiet. I was quiet, Trajan was quiet, Wesley was quiet, Lamond was quiet. Chris Gatling was talkative and Jimmy Jackson was kind of in the middle.

So you had some good veterans in the locker room; I think it’s just that we didn’t have enough time together to gel.

"You have to deal with the business and the politics of the game – which I didn’t want to accept. Dealing with the agent, listening to recommendations, not knowing if I should stay or ask for a trade. All that stuff was new to me."

Guys were signing one- and two-year contracts and they were moving on – like making pit stops in Cleveland. You brought in young guys like me and Trajan, and we saw guys go in and out. There was no stability.

So, they had to kind of rebuild. And eventually that rebuild was moving me and making way for LeBron.

How was Randy Wittman as your first NBA coach back then?

Miller: Well, Randy played in the league; he had experience, he was with Flip Saunders in Minnesota.

And I knew I was coming into a locker room with a lot of veterans: Clarence Weatherspoon, Mark Bryant, Shawn Kemp, Bob Sura. You had those guys in the locker room, and then you bring Randy Wittman in, and I think it was his first head coaching job. And he had to deal with some strong personalities in that locker room.

So you had a mixture of younger guys like me and Trajan and you got vets that have a history in the league.

It was tough for Randy, but I thought he did a decent job with that opportunity. But with that many vets it was like: Which way are we going to go? How are we going to play?

You gotta understand, the league at that time, it was Lakers, San Antonio, Jordan was coming back. There was a lot of hype and it was some of the best years of the NBA. And it was just like the Cavs then were the Clippers of the East.

What was your reaction to getting traded after that third year?

Miller: I loved my experience in Cleveland, and I wanted to stay there. I didn’t plan on going anywhere else. I wanted to be there. I enjoyed the community, I made friends. I was hoping I wouldn’t go anywhere.

And then the business of basketball came in.

You have to deal with the business and the politics of the game – which I didn’t want to accept. Dealing with the agent, listening to recommendations, not knowing if I should stay or ask for a trade. All that stuff was new to me.

All I wanted to do was play basketball – think about Championships and All-Star Games. That other stuff wasn’t even in my head at the time.

My focus was coming to an organization, being professional and having longevity with one team. That was my goal. To come to ONE team and build, build a contender and be part of an organization that builds a contender.

But unfortunately, the politics of the game took over, and I was shipped out. I really didn’t want to, but it was more a recommendation from the agent, the pressure of: It’s not going to happen here. You’re not going to get what you want, whether it’s money or wins.

I was talked into asking for the trade – and I had to move on.

I still tell my friends, the only thing I can say about my experience with LeBron is: I met him when he was in high school, then I asked for a trade so they could draft the guy! (Laughs)

I could have played with one of the best players ever. And all I did was open my mouth and ask for a trade.

So, I always tell people: Be careful what you wish for and be careful what you let people talk you into.

When you look back on your career, what are you most proud of?

Miller: I took pride in being reliable and being available and I tried not to worry about the statistics. I knew if I was out there, I could compete at a high level, I could guard my position, I could guard wings if I needed to.

And just being a professional.

I did everything that was asked of me, team-wise. I practiced, I played in games and I got 100 percent out of my body. I walked away from the game on my own terms.

How did you feel when you’d come back to Cleveland as a visiting player?

Miller: I always looked forward to coming to the arena, flying in – remembering when I first got drafted, the friends that I made.

I always looked forward to coming back. I always reached out to people I was cool with.

Looking for Moses, the security guard. (Former Community Relations VP) Holly Yanak. The cookie lady, the lady who made me cookies! (Laughs) So many people made it feel like a home experience. I was always like: This is where I wanted to be; where I should live.

I’d go home to L.A. and people would say: ‘Hey, you’re back from the Mistake on the Lake!’ and I’d tell them: Nah, man. I love Cleveland. I loved it, everything about it.