This is too short a format to give Brad Miller his due as an NBA player and significant member of the Kings, especially during the 2003-04 season when he started alongside Vlade Divac while Chris Webber recovered from microfracture knee surgery. This topic will be revisited in the near future, when Kings-Wolves isn't conficting with Giants-A's, the NCAA Tournament, and a schedule crunch caused by the compressed NBA season. Promise. Miller is deserving of more. But his appearance at Power Balance Pavilion on Monday - as starting center of the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves - is noteworthy, and weird, and worthy of immediate attention.
So, a few thoughts, observations, memories of Miller: :
. The 7-foot center, who is retiring at the end of his 13th season, was born in basketball-crazy Indiana but continues to make his home in Granite Bay with his wife, Abby, and daughter, Anniston. He also follows the Kings and arena developments closely, and has been present at many of the Here We Stay rallies since the team almost relocated last April. When asked if he ever wanted to pursue coaching, he actually laughed and said he was retiring and coming back to Sac to "take over the arena (negotiations)." More seriously, he said he wants to pressure the powers-that-be to finalize a deal. "I want to be here when that the arena opens in three years," he said.
He is is still rehabbing from the dreaded microfracture surgery - yes, him too - and was thrust into the lineup Monday because of the injuries that have decimated the Wolves' promising roster. Circumstances have been beyond cruel. The Wolves were 21-19 when charismatic rookie Ricky Rubio tore his anterior cruciate ligament (and lateral collateral ligament) on March 9. Since, the team has been hit with injuries to Nikola Pekovic, Jose Barea, Michael Beasley. On Monday, they lost Luke Ridnour indefinitely when the veteran guard came down on Jimmer Fredette's foot and twisted an ankle. Rick Adelman looked particularly beaten down while seated on the visitors bench in his old building Monday night - understandably. At one point he just leaned forward and put his face in his hands.
In the past decade alone, Adelman's teams have sustained devastating injuries to Webber (Kings), Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady (Rockets), and now Rubio, who along with Kevin Love, was reviving a franchise and packing the building. The Wolves folks say Rubio's dynamic presence was missed almost as much as his passing and perimeter defense.
Miller was undrafted out of Purdue in 1998, but he emerged as a serious talent while playing for Rudy Tomjanovich and the national team that won the bronze medal at the World Championships that summer in Athens. That team was all about Miller and a bunch of CBA, fringe NBA type players, subbing for NBA stars who sat out the competition because of the labor impasse. He played briefly in Greece before embarking on an NBA career in Charlotte, Chicago and Indiana, where he became an All-Star before agreeing to a sign-and-trade with the Kings in 2003.
While the most talented Kings team unquestionably was the 2001-02 squad that lost to the Lakers in the conference semifinals - rookie Gerald Wallace only got off the bench for 54 games - Miller was a starter on the a 2003-04 team that, arguably, and in my opinion, was the best "team" in Sacramento franchise history. While Webber rehabbed his shredded knee, and with Miller as the starting power forward, the Kings cruised through the regular-season schedule. I covered the Lakers and Celtics in the 1980s; the 2003-04 Sacramento squad - with 7-footers Miller and Vlade Divac on the frontline - was the best passing team since the Bird-Magic era.
When I asked Miller about this late Monday, he suddenly leaned forward in his chair, visibly animated. "That was the most fun I ever had in basketball," he said, "the best team I ever played on. People talk about the extra pass. We would make the extra pass, and then say, 'yeah, but, while I have a good shot, there's a better shot,' and move the ball again and again.' "
We will leave the conversation with this recollection: January 29, 2004. Kings at San Antonio. (Unfortunately, it was one of a handful of games not televised that season. Fortunately for me, The Bee sent me on the road trip). Divac and Miller combine for 15 assists. The Kings shoot 50 percent against one of the league's best defensive teams. Divac actually throws a between-legs-pass to Doug Christie for a layup. In a classic display of half-court execution and opportunism rather than uptempo basketball, the Kings eviscerate the Spurs and prevail 96-91.
Later, in a locker room teeming with emotional, with Christie, Miller, Bobby Jackson, Mike Bibby, Peja, among others, understanding they had just accomplished something extraordinary, the gregarious Divac offers the quote of his lifetime: "When I make the pass, sometimes the ball has eyes."
"Vlade was the ringleader," Miller recalled late Monday, shaking his head. "And then Peja and Doug .... the funnest time I ever had."
PHOTO CAPTION: Brad Miller as a King