John Wall gets a breather. The Washington Wizards get a leader.
That’s the theory, at least.
The Wizards traded Thursday for disenfranchised point guard Andre Miller, a 37-year-old known as one of the smartest players in the NBA.
The crafty 15-year veteran should shore up the Wizards’ biggest weakness as they make a playoff run. And all it cost them was two disappointments, Eric Maynor (headed to the Philadelphia 76ers) and Jan Vesely (Denver Nuggets), and a second-round pick.
But Miller hasn’t played for the Nuggets since December, when he got into a public shouting match with first-year Nuggets coach Brian Shaw over playing time.
“Obviously we did our homework,” Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld said Thursday in a conference call. “I think that was an isolated situation, isolated incident. We talked to other coaches that he played for and other players. … That was an isolated incident from all our research.”.
Wizards coach Randy Wittman was Miller’s first coach, on the 1999-2000 Cleveland Cavaliers. Miller was an All-Rookie first-teamer back then, and he played with current Wizards veterans Nene and Martell Webster in previous stops.
So they’re not going into this blind. And Miller fits the roster well.
For one, he is a true backup point guard. Though he clashed this season with Shaw, he averaged 9.6 points and 5.9 assists a game last season for the Nuggets. He never gets hurt, having not missed more than two games in a season before this one. He offers a change of pace to Wall’s explosiveness. And he can play in the post, a unique skill among point guards.
The bonus? He proved with the Nuggets’ Ty Lawson that he can play on the court with another point guard.
“That’s going to be up to Randy to see how everything comes together,” Grunfeld said. “He’s a tricky player. He has a knack for getting in the right places. … I’m sure occasionally John and he will be playing together.”.
But this trade mostly makes up for a few blunders by Grunfeld. Vesely, a Czech forward, was the No. 6 pick of the 2011 draft. He’s in the final year of his contract but arguably has regressed. Grunfeld bemoaned his inconsistent offense Thursday while being sure to note that he still could turn around his career.
Maynor signed a two-year deal worth more than $4 million this offseason to be the Wizards’ backup point guard. But he fumbled the role away to Garrett Temple, a combo guard, and has played only 215 minutes this season.
That would not have been a problem had Grunfeld not waived Kendall Marshall before the season. Marshall, now averaging 9.8 assists a game with the Lakers, was a throw-in piece of the trade that brought center Marcin Gortat to the Wizards. He, along with Shannon Brown and Malcolm Lee, were cut the next day.
“At the time we made the trade, we only had one roster spot available,” Grunfeld said. “The season was just about to start, and we had 14 players. We never even really saw him at all. He was put in the deal just to get the deal done.”.
All that is water under the bridge now. The Wizards are 26-28, good for the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. They have enough talent to win a playoff series or two. And now they have the playmaking backup point guard they sorely needed.
Now, nine years after their last playoff series victory, it’s time for them to do something.