Think back, if you will, to the summer of 1996. The Chicago Bulls had completed the best season in NBA history, going 72-10 and finishing as champions, having knocked off the Seattle Supersonics in six games. Along the way they rolled over the Miami Heat, New York Knicks and Orlando Magic in that order, with the Knicks handing them their one pre-Finals loss.
Two years removed from their own first NBA Finals appearance in two decades, the Knicks had the money and the desire to re-tool around All-Star center Patrick Ewing. And one of the biggest pieces they needed was a knockdown shooter.
Let’s pause for a minute. Yesterday, Hall of Famer Reggie Miller added his voice to the Kevin Durant detractors, claiming that Durant “traded a sacred legacy for cheap jewelry,” that “I could not look at those [Indiana] fans had I gone somewhere else.”
Miller goes on to cite times when he could have left Indiana, but didn’t. “The Celtics wanted me to come out of retirement in 2007-08,” he writes, “when they won a title with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. I couldn't do it. There was an opportunity to join the Lakers at one point. I couldn't do that, either. And maybe I should have.”
is it so unlikely that [reggie miller] wouldn’t have considered joining forces with Ewing to try and bring down Jordan and the Bulls?
There was a third time, however, one that Miller doesn’t mention. Which brings us back to the Knicks in that summer of 1996, looking for a shooting guard who would be more consistent than the mercurial John Starks. They wound up signing Allan Houston, then 25 years old and coming off a breakout season where he averaged 19.7 points for the Detroit Pistons. They could have signed Miller instead.
Reggie was 31 though, and despite his having killed the Knicks repeatedly in the past, was seen as less of a building block than the younger Houston. Miller re-signed with the Pacers in October. According to a New York Daily News report from 1998, however, Miller wasn’t terribly happy with the choice:
The Knicks finally signed Houston, while Miller was in Atlanta for the 1996 Olympics. The Indiana player got the news at the U.S. team's hotel, and went whining to U.S. teammate Grant Hill of the Pistons. "Your guy just ruined my plans," Miller told Hill. Nobody really knew what Miller's plans might have been, including Houston. "I didn't care," Houston said yesterday. "I did what was the best situation for me.”
Maybe Miller had just planned on using the Knicks to squeeze more money out of the Pacers, although that’s an odd way to treat your beloved small-market team. Maybe he never intended to leave at all. Given his history at Madison Square Garden, though, is it so unlikely that he wouldn’t have considered joining forces with Ewing to try and bring down Jordan and the Bulls? According to what Miller himself said about it on a TNT broadcast in 2015, he absolutely did. “I think if the Knicks wouldn’t have signed Allan Houston it would have made my decision that much tougher,” Miller said. “When they went with Allan Houston it kind of made it easy for me to go back to Indiana.”
So was Miller’s infantile tirade over Durant’s decision to spurn OKC really about KD leaving a smaller market for a larger one? Or was it more about Durant having the opportunity to do something Miller himself never did?