Long before last season began, it was decided by the 76ers organization not to re-sign starting point guard Andre Miller. That spot would go to Lou Williams, a player who hadn't started in the NBA and isn't really suited to play that position.
Halfway through the season, the job was given to rookie Jrue Holiday, and big things are expected from him now.
Holiday is happy to be a starter in the league, and thrilled that he got his opportunity last season. Still, if he had his way, he would have liked last year to have gone a bit differently.
"I wish he would have stayed last year," Holiday said of Miller before last night's Sixers-Portland Trail Blazers game. "Just from kind of learning from an experienced point guard. Seeing him play out there and the way the guys talk about him [in the locker room]. It would have been fun to really learn from him."
In 221 games with the Sixers in two-plus seasons, Miller averaged 15.9 points a game and 6.9 assists. The team also got to the playoffs in his two full seasons. But more than numbers, Miller provided a calming influence on the floor that has been sorely missing since his free-agent departure for Portland.
"The one thing Andre Miller does is he plays at a great tempo," said Sixers coach Doug Collins. "He knows when to use his speed and he knows when to calm his team down. He plays foul line and under so he's always sneaking around the basket. He comes up with huge plays and he's the guy who might not take shots throughout, yet come up with some big, big shots when they count."
Last night, as the Sixers defeated Portland, Miller had eight points and nine assists in 32 minutes. Holiday couldn't help but see everything Miller did, as he was on him most of the evening. He still would have enjoyed a closer look a year ago at the now 12-year vet.
"Just being in his presence everyday, talking with him everyday would have been great," Holiday said. "Just conversing with him everyday I would have learned a lot. It was probably more of a challenge for me not having a point guard to learn from. Even though you don't see him all over ESPN and all that, just the way the guys talk about him in the locker room. One day I want to be a point guard like that.''
Coach feels the pain
Doug Collins knows all too well what injuries can do to a player. His NBA career was cut to just eight seasons due to chronic foot problems.
Portland center Greg Odom, the top pick of the Blazers in the 2007 draft, will miss all of this season after having microfracture surgery on his left knee. He played just 21 games last season before having surgery on a fractured left patella. After a total of 3 years in the league, Oden will have played just 82 games, or the equivalent of just one season.
"I still hate to see anybody go through that because I know what it did to me," said Collins, who played fewer than 60 games in 5 of his playing years. "Fortunately, I was able to be healthy for 4 or 5 years in a row where I could play. But it just wears you down emotionally.
"You go through injuries and you're spending upwards of 5, 6, 7 hours a day in the training room and you've been operated on and you're just trying to get to where you can walk again, and then they say they're going to let you jog and now they're going to let you jump a little bit.
"The thing you worry about is what am I going to feel like the next day? It's hard to enjoy the game. When your health has been taken away from you, you lose the love of the game. Hopefully that doesn't happen to him because he's still very young and I hope he's going to be able to bounce back. It just seems like at every turn he's getting punched in the gut right now. I wouldn't wish that upon anybody."
There are always a few familiar faces when Portland comes to town. Besides Andre Miller, second-year forward Dante Cunningham, from Villanova, was the first sub off the bench for coach Nate McMillan. Also, Portland's director of player personnel is former Sixers guard Hersey Hawkins.