- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 6, 2009

RICHMOND | One had started 275 consecutive games before basically being rendered immobile by a pinched disk and had to watch helplessly as his team posted the second-worst record in the league. The other was building an impressive individual resume but had to endure three abysmal seasons playing for the worst teams in basketball.

Now DeShawn Stevenson and Mike Miller find themselves as two of the leading candidates for the starting shooting guard job for the Washington Wizards, a dramatic improvement for both of them.

Stevenson, a year after he entered training camp unable even to lower his chin without shooting excruciating pains down his back and legs, is happy to be healthy again.

Miller has been rookie of the year and sixth man of the year, but his career went backward the past three seasons (two in Memphis and one in Minnesota) as his teams combined for just 68 victories. He’s just happy the Wizards traded for him this offseason and that he has a chance to win.

And no matter whom coach Flip Saunders picks to start - whether it’s one of the two, Nick Young or Randy Foye - Stevenson and Miller said they’ll be fine with the decision.

“This is my 10th year in this league, and the main thing you want is to be on a winning team,” Stevenson said. “So whatever we’ve gotta do to win, I’ll do.”

Said Miller: “I just go out and play, and it’s up to Flip to make the call. If I’m out there, I’m out there, and if I’m not, then I’m gonna cheer like I am. If you were in my shoes the last three years, you’d understand. I just want to be happy again, that’s all.”

Both guards give Washington something a little different. The 6-foot-8 Miller has been one of the premier perimeter shooters in the NBA over the course of his career, and that threat will help stretch the floor and ease pressure on Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison. Miller also is a strong - and underrated - rebounder and passer. The 6-5 Stevenson is regarded as one of the Wizards’ top perimeter defenders and also possesses the versatility to run some point for Washington should Saunders choose to play Arenas off the ball in certain sets.

Saunders - who predicts he will try different players at shooting guard throughout the preseason - had mixed his lineups fairly evenly during the past week of training camp. So much so that Arenas, Jamison, Butler and starting center Brendan Haywood never were all on the same team during scrimmages. It has allowed him to experiment with certain rotations while judging talent and cohesion.

However, on Monday (the last day of camp) Saunders had Arenas, Butler, Jamison and Haywood all on the same team, with Miller and Stevenson splitting time at shooting guard. Saunders said after practice he didn’t know who would start Tuesday night’s preseason opener against Memphis. And just because a player gets the nod in that contest doesn’t mean he will start the regular season at that spot.

Neither Stevenson nor Miller had an idea of his chances of landing the job.

On where he stood in the competition, Miller said, “I’m a shooting guard,” and then smiled.

Added Stevenson: “Oh, I don’t know…. No matter where you go with the starting lineup, we’re going to be good and have a solid bench that can contribute. We’re just going to be a good team.”

When asked how Miller and Stevenson have stood out, Saunders ran off a list of praises for each: Miller’s knack for elevating the players around him, his communication skills and willingness to do the “dirty work” and Stevenson’s defensive prowess, versatility and increased comfort.

Regardless of who starts, both players are aware that given the depth and talent the Wizards boast, they’ll each get their chance to contribute in a variety of ways.

And as long as the wins mount, they will remain satisfied.

“We have enough talent on this team that we’re going to score 100, 120 points a game. But that doesn’t mean three guys are going to average 35 a game,” Miller said. “It means we’re going to have guys that average 10, 12, nine, eight, and then of course Gil, Caron and Antawn are going to have their numbers. And I think scoring is overrated. Guys need to rebound, guys need to make plays and the scoring will come as it comes.”

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