Mike Miller won’t be letting it fly for the Heat next season.
The two-time defending NBA champions are using the collective bargaining agreement’s one-time amnesty clause to waive Miller and cut his contract from its books, the Miami Herald learned Tuesday morning. The move allows the Heat to avoid about $17 million in luxury tax.
The Heat informed Miller’s agent Monday night that the team would be using amnesty, according to a source. It’s hard to believe that a championship team would release a player who shot 61.1 percent from three-point range in the 2013 NBA Finals, but that’s the reality of the NBA under the new collective-bargaining agreement, which seemingly was designed to prevent dynasties and financially level the league’s playing field.
“I assumed [amnesty] when you started looking at numbers and stuff like that,” Miller said. “It was going to require a big hit financially to keep it all together but me leaving is not going to ruin the train or momentum of this team.”
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That remains to be seen. The Heat will be hard-pressed to replace Miller’s bench presence, versatility and, most importantly, his clutch shooting in the postseason. His close relationship with teammates also cannot be overstated. In releasing Miller, the Heat has gotten worse, and not better, with one of its offseason moves for the first time since 2010.
“I’ve had so many great memories — Game 5 [2012 Finals] and Game 6 [2013 Finals] — the couple times when I came back from injury and the way the crowd reacted, that was special,” Miller said. “It’s hard for me to be sour with all the great memories that I made. A lot of my NBA memories are now with the Heat.”
Miller will be paid the remainder of his contract ($12.8 million for the next two seasons) either entirely by the Heat or partially by the Heat and the team that picks him up on waivers. If Miller clears waivers unclaimed and becomes a free agent, he would have the potential to earn two paychecks for the next two seasons, although teams over the salary cap can only offer Miller a veteran’s minimum contract.
“My body feels better now than it has in a long time,” said Miller, who started his offseason training last week and wants to again play for a contender. “It’s like the Pringles theory. Once you get that taste, you’ve got to have more.”
The decision to release Miller, a fan favorite and hero of Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals, was a difficult one for the Heat, which has done well this offseason to keep its championship team mostly intact. Last week, Heat president Pat Riley said the decision to keep or release Miller would be made Monday during a meeting with team owner Micky Arison, CEO Nick Arison and senior vice president/assistant general manager Andy Elisburg.
In a conference call with reporters Friday, Riley said Miller was healthier at the end of the 2013 playoffs than he had been during his entire stint with the Heat. Still, with a surplus of veteran shooters on its roster, Miller’s contract for next season ($6.2 million) pushed the Heat’s payroll deep into the luxury tax. Before releasing Miller, the Heat was staring at a potential luxury-tax bill after next season of more than $30 million. Luxury tax alone on Miller’s contract would have cost the Heat about $17 million.
Riley said Friday that the new CBA “really did, in the long run, hurt us.”
Miller signed with the Heat in summer 2010 but was almost immediately beset by what became a series of injuries that limited his playing time.
Freak injuries to his thumbs limited his shooting in 2011 and a nagging back problem reduced his effectiveness in the 2012 season. But Miller shined in the 2012 NBA Finals despite a bulging disk in his back that was so painful he chose to lie on the baseline during games rather than sit in a chair on the bench.
He shot 63.6 percent in the 2012 Finals and delivered one of the best shooting performances in Finals history in Game 5, making 7 of 8 attempts from three-point range to help the Heat clinch its first championship in the Big 3 Era. Miller’s gutsy performance in Game 5 that season — he hunched over in pain after every three-pointer — catapulted him into NBA lore and cemented him forever as a Miami sports icon.
“It was a special moment for me, dealing with the back injury and then being able to contribute in a close-out game,” Miller said.
It was the first NBA championship of Miller’s career, and his heroic 23-point effort in Game 5 served as a catalyst for a business venture in the energy-drink business. Miller’s catchphrase — “Let it fly” — became the name of his new company, Let It Fly Energy (L.I.F.E.).
With the addition of Ray Allen for the 2012-13 season, Miller’s role was limited again, but his inactivity allowed his body time to heal. Miller’s effectiveness was apparent in games he started for Dwyane Wade. The Heat went 15-2 during the regular season with Miller in the starting lineup, and he shot 45.7 percent from three-point range in those games.
With the Heat needing a spark from the outside during the 2013 NBA Finals, Miller was inserted into the starting lineup beginning with Game 4. In Games 1-3, Miller was 10 of 11 from three-point range off the bench. As a starter, Miller went 3 of 4 from three-point range in Game 6 and famously made one of those shots without a shoe.
“One-shoe Willie,” Miller called himself Tuesday during a phone interview with the Miami Herald. “Game 6 was one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen, and to have that happen in that setting was crazy.”
During the Heat’s championship celebration ceremony, fans showered Miller with shoes as he spoke about helping the Heat win back-to-back titles.
With Miller gone, the Heat now has 12 players under contract for next season. It could sign a player or two off of its summer-league roster, which includes 2012-13 rookie Jarvis Varnado, or use the two existing roster spots to sign veterans for the league minimum. The Heat also could use its taxpayer’s exception for next season ($3.2 million) and has been in talks with veteran center Greg Oden, who hasn’t played a game since December 2009 because of injuries.
Rashard Lewis, who was used sparingly in 2012-13, will likely inherit some of Miller’s minutes, but Miller’s easy-going attitude in the locker room and his ability to block out pressure and “let it fly” during big playoff games will be difficult to replace.