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Magic's cap fits Miller

Two of three first-round picks are dealt, leading to the big question: Will Duncan and Hill join the ex-UF star in Orlando?

By DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000


ORLANDO -- Magic coach Doc Rivers is playing golf today, utterly content regardless of what his scorecard will read.

That's because Orlando got the player -- Florida shooting ace Mike Miller -- it wanted with the fifth pick in Wednesday night's NBA draft and dumped enough payroll to have a legitimate shot at signing free agents Tim Duncan and Grant Hill.

Orlando snapped up Miller, then traded its two other first-round selections along with Corey Maggette and Derek Strong. Maggette, Strong and Missouri guard Keyon Dooling, whom Orlando took at No. 10, went to the Clippers for a future first-round draft choice. Fresno State guard Courtney Alexander, whom Orlando took at No. 13, went to Dallas in return for another first-rounder and considerations, likely cash.

With the moves, Orlando cleared approximately $5-million in salary-cap room, giving the club the $18-million it projected it would have for the free-agency market that opens Saturday.

Plus, Orlando has as many as nine first-round picks from 2001-04.

"We're loaded. We have the money we needed now, and we don't have to worry about giving away our whole team or doing any sign-and-trade deals," Rivers said. "That was a big concern. Now I can sleep better. I can play golf now."

Most of the $18-million will be used to try to lure Duncan and Hill, who likely will command about $9-million each. Both are scheduled to visit with Magic officials in Orlando this weekend.

"We're right on target with our goals for free-agency, which is just around the corner," general manager John Gabriel said. "This is step 1 in a two-step process. It started tonight. We look forward to the weekend."

Orlando figured to do a lot of wheeling and dealing, originally in an effort to move up from No. 5 to No. 3 or 1, where it could get high school star Darius Miles or Cincinnati's Kenyon Martin, respectively.

But when those deals fell through, Orlando shifted its focus to clearing cap room.

"You have no idea how close we were (to trading up)," Rivers said. "We were closer to getting Miles than Martin. Actually, I thought we had him."

The selection of Miller was a mild surprise because of where he was taken. Orlando had been eyeing him for weeks but thought it would take him with the No. 10 pick. But he impressed Magic officials enough during his two visits that Orlando took him at No. 5. Atlanta reportedly wanted him at No. 6.

"He basically blew me away with his talent," Rivers said.

In Miller, Orlando gets a player whose NBA readiness was questioned by many, including some Magic players. Miller clearly has NBA skills, but the consensus around the league was that his game needed at least another year of collegiate seasoning. Wizards general manager Michael Jordan said as much.

Miller was a solid but not spectacular during his two seasons in Gainesville, becoming an honorable mention All-American his sophomore year, when he averaged 14.1 points and 6.6 rebounds.

His NBA stock rose significantly during the Gators' 5-1 NCAA Tournament run. Still, Miller agonized over the decision to turn pro, relying heavily on Gators coach Billy Donovan's poll of NBA team executives, many of whom said Miller would be a middle or high first-round pick.

Asked if his selection at No. 5 validates his decision to leave UF early, Miller said: "I think so. To say next year, if I had came out, would I have ended up in a better situation? I don't believe so. I think I ended up in the best situation possible."

The Magic drafted Miller more for his potential than his current skills. Listed by the NBA at 6 feet 8, he is a blossoming talent who can handle the ball almost like a guard, shoot with consistency from the outside and rebound.

He played every position except center at UF and could play shooting guard or small forward for Orlando.

The Magic could have taken Texas 7-foot center Chris Mihm at No. 5, but Rivers said Miller's shooting tipped the scales.

"We felt he was the best player available at that pick," Rivers said. "He's a great shooter, and as you know, shooting is a premium in this league."

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