This isn’t a function of the end of the season or declining NBA veteran fortunes, it’s just the appropriate thing to wonder about as the NBA Finals churn along. The Miami Heat were built around three superstars working for massive contracts through their basketball prime. As a result, the team had to sign a series of role players working past their respective primes to manageable contracts, hoping as pen was put to paper in July for those helpers to put a Finals game away with a dagger from the corner some 11 months later
Shane Battier and Mike Miller are two members of that second stratum. And in two interviews given over the weekend, the two Heat forwards are offering distinctly different versions of their futures in the NBA.
Battier, whose contract expires in the summer of 2014, is just about signing off on making 2013-14 his final year. From a talk with USA Today’s Alex Kennedy:
"I think I have one more year," Battier told USA TODAY Sports.
"My contract is up next year, and I'll reassess where I am, but we'll see. It's a good possibility, a good possibility. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it, and everything in this league is negotiable, but at that point I'll be 36 and it may be time to do something else."
Miller, who at age 33 is a year and a half younger than Battier, is taking a wildly different approach to his next half-decade. From RealGM’s Shams Charaina:
“I feel I have four, five seasons left in me,” Miller said after the Heat’s 103-84 win over the San Antonio Spurs. “That might have something to do with the fact I haven’t played.”
Now, mind you, Mike Miller’s first introduction to the clutch moments of a playoff game came when the Heat forward nailed a three-pointer from the corner in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, before immediately clutching his ribs while in pain. This is a guy who was thought to be a potential amnesty clause release in December of 2011, and he’s talking about playing until 2018?
We dig the chutzpah about as much as we enjoy Battier’s sober outlook; but not nearly as much as we dig how much Battier’s post-NBA life should be looked forward to. The Heat forward has potential in areas that far exceed the relatively silly life of an ex-jock turned broadcaster, coach, or team executive. And even though he was selected in the same draft that produced Pau Gasol, Tony Parker and Tyson Chandler, Battier’s four-year stint at Duke leaves him a few years on in age from his fellow draft class of 2001-mates.
Miller was drafted a year before Battier, but he’s also played over 4000 fewer career minutes than Shane due to various injuries. This is why he brings up the “something to do with the fact [that] I haven’t played”-angle when discussing his ability to keep going a good half-decade after this season. Miller has played just 139 games as a member of the Heat since signing during the summer of 2010, averaging just 17.9 minutes per game because of his debilitating and unfair injury problems.
The glass half-full aspect of that time “off,” as we’ve discussed in the past in regard to oft-injured Greg Oden, is that Miller has had time away from actual play, and if a sudden wave of injury-free excitement ever hit, it’s possible he could extend his career for perhaps four or five more seasons after this one. Just because Miller hasn’t been playing in games, though, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been extending himself while practicing, rehabbing, and traveling with the team. That’s still a grind, even if it isn’t in front of the cameras.
Complicating things is Miller’s contract situation. It may not happen this summer – Miller can still contribute and the Heat can’t really do much in the offseason to replace Miller’s production with his salary off the books – but the team will probably use the amnesty clause and waive Miller during the 2014 offseason.
Both LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh have the ability to opt out of their contracts that summer, and the Heat will be faced with a substantial set of options as to how to move forward with LeBron, while considering the potential production and age of Mssrs. Wade and Bosh. As the team looks to (hopefully, for Miami) reload around James, Miller’s player option of $6.6 million could get in the way of the team adding helpers around LBJ.
Helpers not unlike the current versions of Shane Battier (who came off the bench late in Game 2 on Sunday to nail a three-pointer during garbage time) and Miller (who has been fantastic of late, hitting six of his last 10 from long range while chipping in on the glass per usual). Mike has essentially replaced Shane in the rotation, and that reversal of fortune has no doubt inspired their personalized takes on NBA life past this season.
We’re going to miss these geezers when they walk away, though. Whenever it happens.