PORTLAND - It's not hard to read between the lines of Andre Miller's words.
The former 76ers starting point guard, now with the Portland Trail Blazers, is likely to start against his old team tonight at the Rose Garden.
Yesterday at the Blazers' practice facility, Miller spent more than three hours on the court: two with his teammates and one shooting on his own.
Afterward, Miller, 33, spent a few minutes talking about this season's Sixers, so far drowning at 7-22, and why he is not still with them.
Miller seemed ho-hum over the split, but he was candid about why the Sixers are struggling.
Last summer, the Sixers offered the unrestricted free agent just a one-year, $6 million contract to return. Sixers general manager Ed Stefanski reasoned that it would be impractical to offer Miller, getting on in years, an extended deal. He felt Lou Williams deserved a chance to start, and rookie Jrue Holiday could fill in the gaps.
Miller, seeking that longer contract, signed a three-year, $21 million deal with Portland, but the contract's final year is a team option.
Miller started all 82 games for the Sixers last season, averaging 16.3 points and 6.5 assists. This season, he is averaging 11.3 points and 4.4 assists.
Last summer, his No. 1 choice was to remain with the Sixers, Miller said yesterday.
"There wasn't any money available to pay me," Miller said. "So that was the problem right there.
"I felt the two times we made it to the playoffs, we actually had opportunities to advance. So I just thought with a little bit more time to jell together . . . we definitely had a chemistry when I was over there."
Portland coach Nate McMillan said the Blazers signed Miller because they felt he was the catalyst to the Sixers' success.
"When he was there, they were in the playoffs," McMillian said. "He did a good job of leading those guys on both ends of the floor. Defensively, those were the things we picked up when playing against him: that they trapped, they pressed, and he was the guy who was the vocal guy, the coach on the floor. . . . They just had a swagger about the way they played and we felt like a lot of that was coming from Miller."
Last season, the Sixers finished 41-41 and lost a tough, six-game playoff series to the Orlando Magic. This season, the Sixers have endured a 12-game losing streak and recently re-signed Allen Iverson because they'd run out of guard options.
Does Miller think it odd that the team brought back Iverson, a 34-year-old point guard?
"That's their problem now," Miller said. "I showed durability in this league. My game hasn't declined, it's gotten better over the years, and I'm healthy. That's just an excuse to say, 'The reason we didn't bring him back was because we felt his years were behind him,' which is bull . . . It was just the money, that's all."
Yesterday, the Sixers maintained their summer stance: They wanted to give their young guys an opportunity.
Miller said he knows the Sixers have been having problems this season under new coach Eddie Jordan, implementing his Princeton offense.
"I think it's just they're playing under a new system," Miller said. "I think that's it. Those guys are athletes over there and they want to get up and down the court and fastbreak and force turnovers, and I think right now they're getting taught, basically, how to play college basketball. Passing and cutting and stuff like that."
Is that the right system for Miller's former teammates?
"I don't know," Miller said. "It's hard - some guys over there didn't go to college. That's a system that's going to take time. That's a lot of athletes over there. It takes time and you have to be a thinker at the same time."
Iverson probable. The Sixers have listed Iverson, suffering from arthritis in his left knee, as probable for tonight's game. Iverson played five games with the team, averaging 15.6 points and 4.2 assists, before missing the last four games with the ailment.
Road trippin'. The Sixers play the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday, and conclude the trip against the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 3.