LOS ANGELES — One player away, that was the idea. Every other position was a gem. If the exciting, young Clippers could only get a legitimate point guard, home would be the playoffs.
Then the missing piece showed up . . . and didn't fit.
Did not make things better. Did not help the Clippers take the next step. Looked uncomfortable. Everything seemed an effort.
Calling ex-Ute Andre Miller a bust would be harsh and, given the injuries and financially distracted teammates, unfair.
Yet there is no denying the disappointing results. Miller led the NBA in assists last season at 10.9 a game for a lousy Cleveland Cavaliers team. With the Clippers this season, he's averaged 6.8 a game.
And all his other stats — scoring, shooting percentage, rebounds — are down, too. Worse, his numbers this year aren't any better than those of last year's point guard, the erratic Jeff McInnis.
Acquiring Miller cost the Clippers popular forward Darius Miles, who's struggled in Cleveland, making this that rare trade that helped neither team.
Miller, as all his bewildered teammates, is frustrated.
"I look at this as a wasted season," Miller said. "A season that expectations weren't met. We didn't take advantage of the opportunity in front of us.
"I didn't get any better here. I've tried to make people better, be a team player. That's all you can ask."
Miller is 27 and will become a restricted free agent this summer. He could sign for big money with another team — say, if John Stockton retires in Utah, where he played college ball — and the Clippers easily could deem it too expensive to match, and he's gone. End of Miller experiment. After one season.
"Who knows?" Miller said.
Elgin Baylor is the Clippers general manager who thought Miller would be the perfect addition. Which is not to blame Baylor. Most everyone else figured it was a smart deal.
"It hasn't worked as well as he or we anticipated," Baylor said. "He's a better player than he's shown. I still have a lot of confidence in the guy. I think he's going to be the player we expect him to be."
Maybe, but maybe not. There are plenty of theories why Miller's game hasn't translated smoothly to the Clippers, but none that make it neat and tidy.
Interim coach Dennis Johnson thinks part of it is that Miller played 81 games for the Cavs last year, then played over the summer on the disappointing U.S. team at the World Championships.
"That breaks your body down," Johnson said. "He was tired when he came in. You ask him how he's doing and he says, 'I'm good. I'm straight.' No player wants to say he's tired and wants a rest."
But Clippers forward Elton Brand also was on that U.S. team, and his game did not suffer.
"I guess it's a lot of things," Baylor said. "His dad passed away (early in the season). It could have been on his mind. There's a new team, new system, new players.
"The real answer, I really don't know. Only Andre would know."
Ask Miller what went wrong, he implies it was the offense of fired Clippers coach Alvin Gentry.
"You could probably point to different stuff, but I'm not the coach, I'm the player, and I go out there and try to do what's asked about me," he said. "I can't talk about coaching. That's not my job. My job is to go out and play, and try to make plays for people."
Though disappointed with his performance, Miller believes he has played the role requested.
"I think I've done what's been asked of me since I've been here, just as far as coming in and trying to play my role," he said. "It's just been an up-and-down year for me. Some inconsistency, but that's been with the whole team."
The Clippers, thought before the season to be only a few victories from making the playoffs, are 22-48, ahead of only Denver in the West.
Lamar Odom, Michael Olowokandi, Corey Maggette and Brand all have taken lengthy turns on the injured list. Miller is finishing the season with journeymen Cherokee Parks and Sean Rooks starting up front.
"The ball isn't as much in my hands as it was in Cleveland," Miller said. "Once I pass the ball up, that's pretty much it. I have to get my assists on the fast break or a drive and a kick, and that hasn't been here. I haven't been able to make plays like I thought I would be able to this year."
Baylor said he wants Miller back, but you wonder how it will play out. Miller, the would-be missing piece, could be missing after only one frustrating season.