MIAMI — Mike Miller was a luxury that the Miami Heat decided they could no longer afford.
Miller was designated Tuesday as the team’s amnesty player, a move that may save the Heat more than $30 million in luxury tax payments over the next two years and comes only a few days after team president Pat Riley said the two-time defending NBA champions were hoping to keep the core of the roster largely intact for next season.
But with the team’s tax bill set to be bigger than ever — depending on what the final payroll numbers are, the Heat could pay as much as $2.50 per $1 they are over the salary-cap threshold for this coming season under the league’s new and more punitive rules — the team ultimately made the call to part with Miller, a move that he suspected was coming.
“I understand the business side of basketball,” Miller told The Associated Press. “It’s a combination of being very, very thankful for the opportunity that I’ve had, but it hurts that we had a chance to do something very, very special and I’d love to have been a part of it.”
Riley said the team tried to trade Miller, then had to make “a very difficult decision” to use the one-time amnesty provision on him. He said the team’s managing general partner Micky Arison, CEO Nick Arison and coach Erik Spoelstra all struggled with the decision.
“Mike had an incredible impact on the Miami Heat; helping us to three finals appearances and winning back-to-back World Championships,” Riley wrote in a statement released by the team. “This was a very difficult decision for me personally, the Arison family, Erik and the entire Miami Heat organization. Mike was one of the best we have ever had here, and will be sorely missed. We wish Mike, his wife Jennifer and their family nothing but the best.”
Miller would have made $6.2 million this season, and $6.6 million next season. He still gets that money, but his salary will not count against Miami’s cap, nor will it count against a luxury-tax hit that was in line to exceed $30 million this coming season alone.
“I love Mike. We all love Mike,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade told AP as the news of the team’s decision broke. “It’s tough to lose one of our brothers. But I think we all understand it’s not personal. It’s a business decision.”
If Miller is not claimed off waivers, he becomes a free agent later this week. It’s believed he would like to play for a title contender, and a return to Memphis — where he spent parts of six seasons — would likely appeal to Miller.
“I know I can be very, very productive for a couple years for sure,” Miller said. “But at the same time, it would be very difficult to go into a situation where you’re not competing for a title. So I’m going to have to weigh those things, and we’ll see how it plays out.”
Miller spent three seasons in Miami, helping the Heat win two titles and playing big roles in each playoff run. He started the last four games of this year’s NBA Finals, the highlight of that run possibly being how he lost a shoe during play early in the fourth quarter of Game 6 against San Antonio, flipped it over to the bench, came downcourt and swished a 3-pointer anyway to help the Heat rally from 10 points down in the final 12 minutes.
He also came off the bench to make seven 3-pointers in the title-clinching Game 5 win over Oklahoma City in 2012.
“I’ve had a pretty good career and I’ve been a part of a lot of special things,” said Miller, the NBA’s rookie of the year in 2000-01 and sixth man of the year in 2005-06. “I’ve won some individual awards and now two rings, so I’m going to have some pretty good memories.”
Miller plans to keep playing for at least a couple more years, saying that he feels better now than he has in several seasons. He expressed disappointment that not only will he not get to help the Heat try for a third straight title, he will no longer be playing alongside Udonis Haslem, his former college teammate at Florida.
Reuniting with Haslem was one of the many reasons why Miller signed with Miami.
“I said this when I first got back here: My career started in the state of Florida with unbelievable teammates, one of them being Udonis,” Miller said. “And then ending back up in Florida with UD, that was a special thing. We had a chance to win a national championship, came up short, then at the end got back as teammates in the NBA and won two championships together. That’s special.”