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Miller May Never Find Niche in Miami

The Miami Heat will practice tomorrow before Tuesday's game against Golden State, and Mike Miller hopes to return to the court shortly thereafter. The Heat’s fourth-highest paid player had an injury-riddled first year with Miami, and never really contributed as some expected him to. Despite speculation that the Heat would use the amnesty provision to waive Miller, Pat Riley kept him on the team. With Miller now finally healthy, the question becomes where does he fit in the rotation.

Mike Miller Miami HeatThe Heat already have the best shooting guard and the best small forward in the NBA. Free agent pickup Shane Battier has found his shot after an early-season slump, making two 3s in each of the past two games, as well as making several key defensive plays for his new team. In the waning seconds of the second overtime in Miami’s win over Atlanta, Battier stayed in front of Joe Johnson and blocked the layup attempt from one of the top shooting guards in the league.

Battier stands as the first wing off the bench, Spoelstra recently said. If Miller doesn’t take minutes from the former Duke standout, does he cut into the playing time of point guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole? After exceeding expectations in the first few games of the season, Cole has shown a tendency to act erratically, taking ill-advised shots. Does Miller take away playing time from James Jones? That’s what happened in the Finals, when Spoelstra relied too heavily on a banged-up Miller and opted away from using the shooting of Jones, which would have worked against Dallas’ zone defense.

Moreover, a promising young player named Terrel Harris is on the team. After registering nine points and 14 rebounds against the Hawks, Harris contributed in Miami’s win over New Jersey. In the fourth quarter, he rebounded his own missed layup shot and dished the ball to Chris Bosh for a dunk. Later in the quarter, he made a nice layup in transition to keep the Heat lead in double digits.

With more than $5 million committed to Miller over each of the next four years, he should get a chance to contribute. But he has to play better than he did last season, when he was not a deadeye shooter. Perhaps his thumb surgeries played a role in that, and we’ll see how he can shoot now. Miller hustled and rebounded for the Heat, but he seemed to injure another part of his body every other game.

The one game in which Miller played really well last season – a home game against the Toronto Raptors when the swingman scored 30 points – came without Dwyane Wade on the floor. Instead of operating as a standstill shooter, he came off of screens and made a few dribbles to get his shot attempts. That’s what he did throughout his career in Orlando and Memphis. With the Heat, he has to learn how to become a better standstill shooter. Battier and Jones have already proven that they can wait for the drive-and-kick action from Wade or LeBron James.

Riley’s decision to keep Miller and give three-year contracts to Battier and Jones was certainly a curious one. Perhaps Riley will trade Miller before the March 15 deadline, as I have addressed. He could also receive the amnesty boot next year. Perhaps he can play as many expected him to before his litany of injuries last season – a fourth scoring option in the form of an exceptional 3-point shooter, a good ball-handler and a hustle guy. But with Miami’s wing rotation already in great shape with Miller sporting gray suits to games, one can’t help but wonder if right now, Miller stands as an unnecessary luxury on a team that still plays Joel Anthony and Dexter Pittman in the center rotation.