Chaos has surrounded Mike Miller. The Knicks’ president was fired. The new branding consultant effectively got rid of Miller on national television, before walking back his comments. Big-name coaches have been connected to the job Miller currently holds.
But the Knicks’ interim coach has tuned it all out. He’s not trying to prove himself, to the Knicks or any other organization. He only cares about one thing: Giving his best for the seemingly forever-in-turmoil franchise’s current players.
“If we help these guys and we continue to grow and get better, then we’ve done our job,” Miller said. “All I’m concerned about is bringing value to it and helping these guys. As simple as it sounds, I did that for six years as a D-League [and] G-League coach and I felt good at the end of every season. That’s the direction that I take.”
It’s that simple, day-to-day approach that seems to have worked well for Miller, who is running an NBA team for the first time in his long coaching career. Since replacing fired Knicks coach David Fizdale on Dec. 6, Miller has led the orange and blue to a 13-20 record. Under Fizdale, they were a collective mess, winning just four times in 22 games. Under Miller, the Knicks have been more competitive, better defensively and more cohesive offensively. Of his 20 losses, 10 were by single digits. Since leading scorer Marcus Morris was traded to the Clippers on Feb. 6, the Knicks’ play hasn’t dropped off. They are 2-2, including a double-overtime road loss to the Hawks.
“I don’t make those decisions [about Miller getting a full-time job as an NBA coach], but from my personal standpoint, dealing with him on a day-to-day basis, he’s been absolutely amazing,” forward Julius Randle said. “How he interacts with us, how he coaches the game, everything. We’ve responded very well to him and he’s done a great job. He just makes some adjustments for what he feels is best, playing to guys’ strengths and stuff like that.
“He’s never too high, never too low. We have a loss, after the game he’s not super-emotional. We’ll be in the next day and we’ll talk about it. … He’s been great with that and great with making sure we connect with each other.”
Perhaps most importantly, Miller has provided balance at a time when there is so much uncertainty within the organization and as rumors swirl daily. Miller’s focus has been on the present. He has not been fixated on what might happen down the line and he doesn’t want his players thinking about the unknown, either. He has made sure they have gotten that message directly from him, too.
“What we control is today. Let’s take care of today. Let’s get better today,” Miller said. “If we can do that and keep our energy going in that direction, they have proven when they do that, they can have success and they can help themselves.”
As names pop up as potential future Knicks coaches, from Tom Thibodeau to Jeff Van Gundy, and changes loom under incoming president Leon Rose, the 55-year-old Miller isn’t taking the bait, refusing to lobby for the job. He doesn’t keep tabs on social media. When it was suggested the idea of keeping his job long term has been dismissed, he said it was news to him. His family knows not to bother him with the latest reports.
“I don’t think it’s productive for me,” Miller said. “My job is right here, today. My focus the last couple of days is come back and have these two good practices and get ready to play Indiana, then we have two more practices.
“It’s really not my concern. My background, I spent six years in the D-League [and] G-League and it was day-to-day, how do you make the players better. I really think that experience gave me a different perspective of how to do this job, and how to do a job that brings value to an organization. I’m good with it and I feel like if we’re helping the players, we’re doing our jobs, and that’s good enough for me.”