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Active Seniors

Posted by Kelly Dwyer

Fun week, eh? Danny Ainge lost out on Brevin Knight, still hasn't reined in PJ Brown, but the C's have gone public with their courtship of TV's Reggie Miller. Miller hasn't played since May of 2005, he hasn't played defense since March of 1985, and he hasn't made much noise as a member of a postseason participant since the "box-top fade incident" back in 2002. Seemingly invigorated by an unrelieved attack of nostalgia, Pat Riley signed Anfernee Hardaway to play for his Miami Heat, and Allan Houston told Chris Broussard that's he's aching to be back in the NBA.

So what's with this odd triptych of well-meaning, lanky, ring-less wings that have been forced upon us? Miller's the clawing, yakking shooter who appeared to have let loose with his jumpers using both hands at once. Houston is the guy who left what appeared to be a burgeoning Piston outfit to join the Knicks (who wanted Miller all along) back in 1996, and Hardaway's the hard-luck guy who somehow left himself impossible to sympathize with in spite of a series of injuries.

Let's advance without any talk of legacy, or what seems right, or what we'd like these guys to do. These are grown-arse men who have every right in the world to do as they please in a field they've already succeeded in. If you don't like the idea of Miller wearing anything but an Indiana Pacers uniform, get over it, because,

1.He's not going to un-retire. This is essentially an ego-massage that dovetails nicely with the slowest month in the NBA calendar. Thanks, Reg. One love, D-Ainge.
2. The Indiana Pacers haven't worn a good looking uniform since Billy Keller was chucking threes. Any uni, and especially the Boston rags, are an improvement.

When Miller retired after the 2004-05 season, he was coming off what had to be the toughest run of his career. Quite a few, this mug included, had picked the Pacers to represent the East in that year's Finals; but some sort of "Malice at the Palace" (never heard of it) and heaps of injuries forced the Pacers into a desultory 44-win season and a second round exit. 'Thing is - Miller was great. Great for a 39-year old, I submit, but he was carrying that team offensively at times. Jamaal Tinsley's healthiest half-year helped, quite a bit, but Miller was a force.

I covered quite a few late-season Pacer games at Conseco that year, and ended up watching Miller more than any of the other nine guys on the hardwood. For years, I couldn't stand the guy's game - but his efficiency off the ball was something else, and with rule changes allowing him to work his way through screens unfettered, he hardly looked the part of a 39-year old. He didn't look the part of a 29-year old, either, but it was a nice run - 66 games, 15 points on 11 shots, 32 minutes a night, and a 16.6 PER. In March, Miller averaged 19 a game (hat tip to John Hollinger's Prospectus from that season) with Tinsley, Jermaine O'Neal and Ron Artest on the pine, and his defense wasn't that bad. Oddly, his three-point stroke (32.2 percent) was way off, but he was able to pile up the points nonetheless.

This is a long way of getting to what I thought then and still believe now: Miller could have played, well, in 2005-06 and 2006-07. Shooters never lose their stroke, somebody's always around to set a screen, and players of his height can always get a shot off.

2007-08 is a different story, one made all the more muddled by the fact that Miller took two seasons off. Had he continued apace, the guy might have been a sound contributor even at age 42, but returning after two seasons off ... naw, it ain't happening. And although few believe he'll actually sign with the Celtics, it's worth pointing out that this is the worst possible Conference Finals contender for Miller's skill set. He wouldn't get minutes on the wing with Paul Pierce and/or Ray Allen healthy, and he wouldn't be any good starting should one of them take to the injured list. If anything, Miller should go to a team desperate for a sound-shooting wing, like Cleveland or the Heat.

Houston and Hardaway's prospects are even worse. In 2004-05, Allan Houston was getting his shot blocked - his JUMP SHOT blocked - by Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich is a top-flight defender, but "flight" doesn't often play a big part, and I think he's gotten rim three times since being drafted in 2003. Hardaway, Houston's teammate for a spell, stunk horribly for the Knicks that same year, and managed only four games in 2005-06. Allan and Anfernee's knees may be as strong as ever this time around, but it won't be nearly enough to offset the time spent away from the game, or the age (both are 36) issues. Put it this way - Chris Mullin could outlast any of these guys on the treadmill, and beat 98 percent of NBA wings at a game of HORSE. You wouldn't want him as your backup small forward. Or your GM, but that's for another Friday ...

UPDATE: John Hollinger kind of beat me to a whole host of the same points (including a riff on Charles Oakley, who I left out because of the word count and the headaches resultant in just reflecting on Oak's late-career runs with the Bulls, Wizards, and Rockets), so if you want the same post sans a Billy Keller reference, read this.