With a “Welcome Back Mike” message on the marquee above the dais, the Grizzlies celebrated the return of a franchise favorite today at the lobby of FedExForum.
Flanked by head coach Dave Joerger and team CEO Jason Levien at a spirited and well-attended public press conference, the newly signed Mike Miller praised his new team with a long string of defensible superlatives: Joerger as “an unbelievable hire.” Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol as “the best big-man combo in the league.” Conley as “the most underrated player in the league.” Add in a “lockdown defender” in Tony Allen and the “championship pedigree” of Tayshaun Prince, and Miller made clear he sees this Grizzlies team as one that can compete to get where his most recent employer has been for the past three seasons: In the NBA Finals.
Levien indicated that the team had been game-planning a potential Miller amnesty since before the past season ended. Miller revealed that Levien was one of his first phone calls when the amnesty came down. And the tone of the day underscored how close a relationship Miller and Joerger have.
“Isn't this great?,” a Grizzlies employee said afterward, surveying the scene. “Great that it's not happening in Oklahoma City today,” another onlooker answered. And that's part of it.
The Miller introduction felt like the peak of the late-summer momentum that seems to have firmly re-entrenched the Grizzlies as a legitimate Western Conference contender. And Joerger went into a bit of detail about how Miller can factor on the floor, not only in spacing the court for the team's power players but also using his versatility to give the team more playmaking and more small lineup options.
Perhaps most intriguing was the suggestion that this second go-round could last a little while. Joerger emphasized that Miller, in Memphis, would not be seen as merely a “hired gun,” but rather as a more meaningful part of the team and community. But the suggestion went further than that.
Miller talked about “being a part of this for a long time to come.” Levien followed up by mentioning a “long relationship in Memphis going forward.” Miller signed a two-year deal with the Grizzlies with a player option in the second season, the idea being that Miller thinks he's got one more significant contract left in him. Based on the team's current salary projection, Miller might need to play out both years of his current contract to get a longer-term deal for above the vet minimum in Memphis. This will make next summer interesting. But that's next summer.
For now, Miller's back as a key cog in what's shaping up as arguably the deepest and most talented roster in Grizzlies' franchise history. And one that isn't finished. Before and again after the Miller presser, team officials were meeting with free agent guard Mo Williams. College and European star guard Nick Calathes, whose rights the team acquired last week, is also in town meeting with the team, with a decision on his NBA future looming this month. Chances seem pretty good at least one of those two players will be joining Miller in Beale Street Blue next season.