LOVE HIM, LOVE him not. Trade him, trade him not. While observers all around the NBA - some who actually work for media outlets, some who are bloggers, some who merely enjoy saying whatever they wish on message boards - are discussing whether Andre Miller might be, or should be, traded, the 76ers point guard seems virtually oblivious to all of it.
Instead of paying an iota of attention to the speculation, Miller - for reasons no one seems to be able to fully explain - has become energized, significantly raising his level of aggressiveness and effectiveness. He says it is mostly because teammates are making shots and finishing plays, but it is more than that.
The Sixers, seemingly lost at sea for much of the early part of the NBA season, suddenly have won three games in succession going into tonight's meeting with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Sixers are 3-1 since they introduced Eddie Stefanski as their new president/general manager. In those games, Miller has handed out 45 assists against just 12 turnovers, has scored 63 points and shot an excellent 25-for-43 from the floor.
In one respect, he hasn't changed at all. His dressing area in the Wachovia Center locker room is the closest to the screen on which the game tapes are shown. Speaking with reporters after Monday night's impressive, 100-88 victory over the Houston Rockets, he never took his eyes off the replay. He rarely does.
"The main thing is, when other guys are knocking down shots it opens up the game for me," he said. "Any time I can be aggressive it makes everybody else's job easier, then things open up for me."
In this one, he put together 17 points, 12 assists and three steals. He consistently found open men behind the Rockets' lagging defense, or sent the ball back to the perimeter, where Willie Green shot 8-for-15 and Kyle Korver was 5-for-7. Asked whether that was what he always tried to do, Miller just smiled.
"Sometimes you're aggressive, sometimes you're not," he said. "You pick and choose when you can be scoring and when you're getting everybody else the ball. It's kind of a mixture. I think I'm doing the same thing; I'm probably still going to get 2-4 turnovers, depending on the defense. Guys are finishing off the plays right now."
Still, his teammates' antennae seem to be up, knowing their point guard is on a roll.
"I don't know what it is, he's definitely been more aggressive," said Korver, who suffered through a five-game stretch in which he had hit only 2 of 21 three-point attempts and now has drained 8 of 11 in the last three. "When he's aggressive like that, we're at our best, when [the opponents] have to worry about him scoring. He's got kind of a herky-jerky, slower, power-burst game; when he's able to be a threat, like he has been the last five games, it just opens things up for us.
"It's like with Lou Williams; when they have to worry about who's coming at them first, it makes it easier for the rest of us to come off screens, and we get those dump-downs, those lasers he throws. To me, it all starts with him at the point and [center Samuel Dalembert's] defense. If we keep on getting those two things, then we have Andre [Iguodala], Willie and me, and whoever else is able to come in and fill it up."
If anyone can appreciate the value of the point guard, it is coach Maurice Cheeks, who filled that role with the 1982-83 championship Sixers. Miller, Cheeks said, has a knack for knowing which teammate is hot, which teammate needs, or hasn't recently had, a shot.
"He understands the game, he understands the way they're playing," Cheeks said. "It's not me having to call a play. He makes the game easier for me and for the players. He's a veteran; he's been around a while. He understands the whole game, not about one part."
It is more than fair to say that Miller is probably the Sixer most coveted by other teams, either contenders who feel they need one more piece or young teams who need a floor leader. Stefanski has made it clear he is contacting every team, listening to any and all possibilities before the Feb. 21 trading deadline. The Sixers have to decide whether Miller is more valuable to them for now and for next season, or as a chip to bring them some combination of additional cap space, young talent and a draft choice.
But, for the moment . . .
"If there's anybody that we really need - we definitely need Sam - but the person we need the most on this team is [Miller]," Iguodala said. "He really gets guys involved. He's really attacking the basket. He's really just running the offense and making things easier for everybody."
Lou Williams, who sat out Monday night's 100-88 victory over the Houston Rockets with a small fracture in his right big toe, was hopeful of being available to play tonight . . . Rodney Carney left yesterday's brief practice with the flu. *