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Bob Cooney: Losing Miller hurt Sixers, but helped Holiday in long run

IT TURNS OUT, the telltale sign that this season could turn disastrous for the 76ers came last summer, when management decided to offer point guard Andre Miller a take-it-or-leave-it, 1-year deal to stay with the team.

Andre Miller, right, left the Sixers after last season and signed a three-year deal with the Trail Blazers. (AP Photo / Ben Margot)
Andre Miller, right, left the Sixers after last season and signed a three-year deal with the Trail Blazers. (AP Photo / Ben Margot)Read more

IT TURNS OUT, the telltale sign that this season could turn disastrous for the 76ers came last summer, when management decided to offer point guard Andre Miller a take-it-or-leave-it, 1-year deal to stay with the team.

He left it.

Disaster was confirmed on Dec. 30.

On that night, the Sixers were about to play the Kings in Sacramento. Moving through the locker room and talking with South Jersey native Jason Thompson, I noticed an office door open. Sitting alone inside was Kings assistant coach Pete Carril. After an introduction, he invited me in to talk.

Carril is the mastermind of the Princeton offense, of course, and one of his prized pupils is Sixers coach Eddie Jordan. So it was surprising, yet revealing, what Carril had to say about Jordan's team back before the New Year, when the Sixers were struggling at 14-30.

"They don't have the right point guard to run the offense," Carril said. "[Lou] Williams is a scorer, a slasher. He's good at that, but he's not the type of player you need running the offense. You need him to score and make jump shots for you. I like [Jrue] Holiday, but he's not ready to do it yet. The one person I think would be best at running the offense would be [Allen] Iverson, but I don't think he's going to change his game and become that type of player."

Which brings us back to the subject of Miller. Because of his age, 33, management was reluctant to give him the 3-year contract he was seeking. It offered a 1-year deal at a price of $6 million, but Miller was not interested. He instead signed with Portland for $21 million over 3 years.

Williams was put in charge, though he had never started an NBA game and rarely played the point. Jordan said that the offense doesn't really need a true point guard, that it usually is run with two guards up front anyway.

Whether Jordan truly believed that is questionable. Perhaps he did, and if so, then the results show him to be wrong. Or maybe he wanted Miller to be the catalyst for his offense, but management wasn't willing to keep him for the years and money it would cost.

What it did cost the team was wins, probably many of them. Miller is not only the floor general the team sorely lacks, but also a locker-room leader, which the team doesn't appear to have.

"When I was there last year, Andre Miller was the true leader of the team, on and off the floor," said Reggie Evans, traded in the offseason to Toronto for Jason Kapono. "He was the one who told everyone where to be on the floor. He was the one who led by example."

Said Royal Ivey, now with the Milwaukee Bucks after getting moved at the trading deadline in February: "I was shocked that they didn't keep him. He was a big part of the success we had there last year. I didn't really know the reasoning, but it's what they decided, and I think that's the main reason they've struggled so much this year."

Sixers guard Willie Green has seen a lot of player movements during his 6 years on the team. Nothing seems to faze him anymore in the business world of the NBA. Still, he also was surprised management decided to cut ties with the guard who averaged 16.3 points and 6.5 assists last season.

"I think we're missing the fact that we were together for 2 1/2 years, together as a team," said Green. "Basically, he was our floor general. Everybody on the team misses him and misses his presence."

Even Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy chimed in about Miller this week when the Magic visited. Miller's last game in a Sixers uniform came against the Magic in the playoffs last season, when Orlando ousted the Sixers in six games of the opening round. Van Gundy talked openly about how much more he feared the Sixers with Miller on the team.

With Miller, the Sixers probably would be competing for or have already secured a playoff spot. Jordan and general manager Ed Stefanski's job might not be in peril and there would be no talk of a team 22 games under .500.

But here's the twist - getting rid of Miller is starting to seem like the right move. Why?


Think about it. Sixers fans have said they want the team blown up and rebuilt. Holiday is the perfect part to start with. Wouldn't you rather have a 19-year-old getting a ton of minutes during a wasted season than sitting on the bench watching Miller play out a 3-year contract?

Holiday is blossoming into a prototypical NBA lead guard. He is big (6-4) and strong, and can score, defend and pass. In Wednesday's 101-86 win in Milwaukee, he swallowed up Rookie of the Year candidate Brandon Jennings on defense and continually drove through and around him on the offensive end.

In his past six games, Holiday is averaging 14 points on 52.2 percent shooting, with 6.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 2.2 steals; he has made seven of 19 three-pointers.

It appears to be a sign of things to come. For many, many years. He is after all, just 19. He appears to be one solid piece for an organization littered with gaping holes.

Six shots

Lou Williams (lower back pain) will be a game-time decision tonight when the Sixers host the Atlanta Hawks . . . Forward Thaddeus Young again will be out with a fractured right thumb.



7, tonight vs. Atlanta Hawks (46-25)

TV: Comcast SportsNet

Radio: WIP (610-AM)

Notes: The Hawks clinched their third straight playoff appearance Wednesday and are in a battle for the third spot in the Eastern Conference. Jamal Crawford leads the NBA in scoring off the bench, at 17.9 a game. Josh Smith is the only NBA player averaging at least 15 points (15.7), eight rebounds (8.8) and four assists (4.3). At 6-9, he is the tallest player in the league in the top 10 in steals (1.7), and the shortest in the top 10 in blocks (2.1).

7 p.m. Tuesday, vs. Okla. City Thunder (43-27)

TV: Comcast SportsNet

Radio: WIP (610-AM)

Notes: The Thunder is one of the big stories in the league this season. It is in good shape for a playoff berth only 1 year after losing 59 games. Coach Scott Brooks, the former Sixers guard who credits much of his success to Sixers assistant coach Jim Lynam, is a strong candidate for Coach of the Year. Forward Kevin Durant has scored 30 or more points an NBA-leading 39 times. In those games, the Thunder has gone 27-12.

7 p.m. Wednesday, at Charlotte Bobcats (37-34)

TV: Comcast SportsNet

Radio: WIP (610-AM)

Notes: The Bobcats have won six consecutive games at Time Warner Cable Arena and are a formidable 26-8 at home this season. High-scoring guard Stephen Jackson has been bothered by a hand injury of late and shot only 19-for-60 over three straight games before making 15 of 24 and scoring 37 against Minnesota on Wednesday. Their win total is a franchise record.


11: That's how many consecutive seasons the Sixers had a winning record at home. That will be snapped this year, as the team is only 11-24 at the Wachovia Center.

25.4: That's how many three-pointers opponents have attempted on average against the Sixers over the past eight games. By contrast, only the New York Knicks (27.3) and the Orlando Magic (25.9) average more attempts per game than that number.