Veteran free agent Mike Miller will be visiting the Denver Nuggets on Sunday and Monday, according to ESPN Radio 92.9FM in Memphis.
Denver was rumored to have interest in the 34 year-old shooter, but a two-day recruiting pitch seems to confirm that the Nuggets are closing in on a serious bid to sign Miller, possibly to a multi-year contract.
The news is surprising for a number of reasons. First, Denver already has 14 out of the maximum 15 roster spots earmarked for new and returning players. Second, wing depth didn’t appear to be an area of need for the current roster. This led many to speculate Denver would be relatively quiet in free agency, perhaps using the final roster spot on a third point guard and moving forward with the roster as-is.
Miller seems like an odd fit on the surface, but digging a bit deeper reveals how the sharpshooter might fit on a Nuggets team looking to make some noise the Western Conference right away. With some minor tweaks to the roster, Denver could free up the flexibility and positional logjam to make Miller a contributing piece. Here’s a cursory look at the main arguments for and against adding Miller to this current Nuggets squad.
Why Miller fits
The Nuggets are currently well-stocked on the wings with Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler forming a capable collection of swingmen who do a bit of everything. Afflalo figures to see most of his action as a big shooting guard, which really only leaves Quincy Miller as the primary depth behind Gallo and Chandler, two players who have not been reliably healthy throughout their Nuggets careers.
Quincy Miller is still young, but he has yet to develop into anything other than a raw, scoring wing who is not particularly good at any one thing. With Miller set to become a restricted free agent next season, the Nuggets have to decide if they want to continue developing a player who does not look ready for a contributing role. That is where Quincy’s unguaranteed salary comes into play. If waived before opening night, the Nuggets can create a roster spot and some $900k room under the cap to bring in a solid veteran like Mike Miller.
Even if the Nuggets want to keep Quincy as a fourth wing, bringing on Mike could make some sense. Wilson Chandler has only a partial guarantee in 2015-2016, the final year of his deal. If Gallo can return to any semblance of his old self, Chandler will be a luxury Denver probably can’t afford beyond this season. Because of his trade value both as a player and a cap-friendly contract, Chandler remains unlikely to be a part of Denver’s long term plan. Signing Mike Miller could be a preemptive move in acquiring a cheaper replacement for someone likely to be traded or cut eventually.
Despite chronic back issues and a injury-riddled career, Mike Miller quietly had a bounce-back year last season, appearing in all 82 games while generally doing what he does. ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus paints a good picture of who Miller is at this point in his career. He ranked ninth among all small forwards in offensive RPM, a product of being one of the elite floor spacers in the game. Last season, over half his shots were threes and 97.2% of those makes were assisted. Defensively he’s a complete liability, ranking 76th out of 78 in defensive RPM at his position. Overall, Miller was a net positive on a Memphis team which had a top-10 defense.
Miller is deadly spotting up from anywhere, but he makes a ton of threes above-the-break where Afflalo and Foye don’t shoot very well. He is probably best suited to smaller lineups in which he can be stuck on a big and not have to guard any decent scorers. He’s an above-average rebounder for his size and pairing him with Afflalo and Foye provides a ton of spacing around Ty Lawson, one of the best penetrators in the game. Offensively, he could be a very good fit with the right Nuggets lineups.
Why Miller doesn’t fit
Simply put, if Miller doesn’t become a bonafide difference maker and one of the best sixth men in the game, this signing just isn’t worth it. Miller makes little to no sense on a team that is not a legit conference finals contender right away.
It remains a huge question whether or not Denver can be a team that is just a few minor pieces away. The Nuggets are a deep squad relying on the health of decent players like Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee to vault them into contention. Defensively is by far where the Nuggets are most deficient, and Mike Miller does nothing to address those concerns.
Adding Miller is also likely to squeeze out the youth movement and hinder the development of players like Gary Harris and Quincy Miller. If the Nuggets end up just squeaking into the playoffs or being one-and-done yet again, both the Nuggets and Mike Miller will have needlessly wasted a year.
Roster space and salary cap concerns
I mentioned earlier that the Nuggets have only one roster spot available, assuming Quincy Miller isn’t waived and Jusuf Nurkic comes to Denver right away. Rumors have been circulating about Nurkic staying overseas another year, but Chris Dempsey confirmed what Tim Connelly has said all along — that Nurkic’s buyout is in place and he’ll join the Nuggets this upcoming season.
Quincy is no guarantee to be kept, but doing so would leave the Nuggets with a glut of forwards and only two real point guards — Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson. Foye would slide into the third PG role and there would be increased pressure on Gallo and Afflalo to be primary creators if Ty or Nate were to miss any games.
The Nuggets will be competing with teams like the Thunder and Grizzlies to sign Mike Miller. He is a likely candidate for the veteran’s minimum or bi-annual exception with those teams. The Nuggets have the full mid-level exception and about $4 million of room under the tax line to bid with, which is enough for a competitive offer. Look for Miller to get a two or three year deal with an annual salary somewhere around $3-5 million.
If no further moves are made, Miller’s future salary would put a dent in the Nuggets flexibility next year, when Kenneth Faried would be due an extension. However, Mozgov has a team option that season and Wilson Chandler has only a partial guarantee, giving the Nuggets options to maneuver further under the cap.