John Smallwood: Sixers need Andre Miller back, but not at any price

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The Sixers are likely to offer Andre Miller a 1-year deal, maybe more. (John Raoux/AP file photo)

TODAY WOULD BE one of those days where it would be good for the 76ers if point guard Andre Miller were a little less unusual.

Miller has never revealed a lot about himself during his tenure with the Sixers, and it was always hard for fans, management and his teammates to get a read on what exactly was going through his mind.

Does he like Philadelphia? Does he want to remain a Sixer? Is he happy with the progress of the program?

Yes, no, maybe so. It depended on how you interpreted what Miller might have said on any particular day.

And that was fine when Miller was under contract and the Sixers had final say in whether he would stay or go.

That all changed at the end of the season when Miller became an unrestricted free agent with the autonomy to decide his next NBA destination. In the middle of an offseason when the Sixers' options for change are limited, it's bad timing to have getting a deal done with a wild card as your No. 1 priority.

But that's where the Sixers are as they begin negotiating with free agents today.

The Sixers have made it clear they want Miller back; it's fairly obvious they need him back.

Still, can anyone say what Miller wants?

It has to be disconcerting that Miller wouldn't negotiate an extension during the season despite knowing this was going to be a tough market for free agents, especially older ones looking for top coin.

Because of the economy, salary-cap problems for most teams, and a calculated risk by others to clear money for a 2010 free-agent class that could include LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Ben Gordon and Hedo Turkoglu might be the only guys who get fair value on the open market this summer.

Sixers president/general manager Ed Stefanski said there will conversations today with Miller's camp.

That would be a good thing, but I can't imagine the Sixers releasing some statement tonight announcing they had come to terms with Miller.

I think, despite the fact that Miller is 33 and the Sixers drafted 19-year-old Jrue Holiday as their point guard of the future, they would make any reasonable deal to keep Miller.

What's "reasonable" is the sticky part.

Since he is their own free agent, the Sixers can offer Miller the most money in free agency, but they are only going to commit so much in money and years to keep him. If Miller has a considerably different idea on what those should be, this could fall apart quickly.

What is Miller's value to the Sixers?

Short term, if the Sixers expect to continue the path of progress that has resulted in consecutive playoff appearances, Miller is a must-have. He has been the Sixers' most important player in terms of consistency and reliability.

Miller's steady head and hands have led to the Sixers' improved play and the development of core players like Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Marreese Speights and Lou Williams.

And considering the Sixers get a healthy Elton Brand back next season, Miller is vital to the current team showing immediate improvement.

Seem like a no-brainer?

Not exactly. The Sixers want to improve, but no one yet sees them as a serious title contender.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, who had the best record in the NBA, and Orlando Magic, who reached the Finals, both made high-profile moves to improve their rosters, and the Boston Celtics get back a healthy Kevin Garnett.

Even with Miller, the Sixers won't likely be better than the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference.

Signing a 33-year-old point guard at any cost under those circumstances doesn't make a lot of sense.

As bad as the Sixers' salary-cap situation is, giving Miller a contract for too much money for too many years would just extend the problem.

In 2 years, Samuel Dalembert's bloated contract will come off the books. Brand and Iguodala will be 2 more years into their deals, so even though they will be making big money, fewer years could make them easier to trade if the Sixers wanted to go in that direction.

Giving Miller more than 2 years would effectively negate those benefits.

Besides, in 2 years, the Sixers are likely counting on Holiday to be ready to guide this squad just as its core players should all be in their prime.

How does that look to you if you're Miller?

Wouldn't you want more security than a 2-year contract, especially with the heir-apparent just entering the fold?

The Sixers' advantage is that most of the top teams already are set at point guard or don't have salary-cap space, so the market for Miller could be limited.

Miller's advantage is that he knows not only that the Sixers need him, but that they also have other needs to fill.

With limited salary-cap options, however, they are effectively handcuffed until they figure out what is going to happen with him.

There are lesser point guards who can be signed with the veteran's exception, but that would hamper other potential moves the team could make with that money.

A decline at the point-guard position and fewer needs being addressed does not equate to improvement.

The Sixers need to re-sign Andre Miller, but they also need to do it on their terms. That's not going to be easy to do. *

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