Mike Bibby Justifying Move To Miami Heat As Team Moves Toward NBA Finals

By Chris Tomasson

Call him the Minus Six Million Dollar Man.

When point guard Mike Bibby gave up his $6.2 million salary for next season last February to escape lowly Washington and get to title-contending Miami, many wondered what the heck he was doing. That even included his biggest supporter.

"She didn't think I should," Bibby said during a one-on-one interview about his mother, Virginia, not wanting him to do it.

Well, Bibby did it, and he has no regrets. Now, as a Heat starter, he's on the brink of his first NBA Finals appearance in his 13-year career.

Miami has a 3-1 lead over Chicago entering Thursday's Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. But Bibby, who on Feb. 28 agreed to buyout in which his Wizards contract for next season was voided and then signed for the prorated minimum as a free agent with Miami on March 2, has heard plenty of naysayers.

"A lot of people were kind of negative about it and can't believe I gave it up," said Bibby, in the conference finals for the first time since his Sacramento Kings' crushing 4-3 defeat by the Lakers in 2002. "There might be a lockout next year anyway. So either way you look at it, you weren't going to get paid anyway ... I've been in this league long enough to where it wasn't going to make me or break me money wise."

Bibby, 33, who has made more than $100 million in his career, has a point about the lockout. If much of next season is wiped out, all NBA players will take big financial hits.

If no games are loss next season, though, Bibby's loss could turn out to be about $4.5 million. He would be hard-pressed to earn more than the minimum salary, which is currently $1.352 million for players with 10 or more years experience. But Bibby did pocket about an extra $350,000 this season from Miami since Washington agreed to pay him this year's full $5.6 million salary.

Bibby didn't want to get stuck for the remainder of this season and possibly for next season on the rebuilding Wizards. He had landed in Washington after a Feb. 23 trade from Atlanta, and averaged 1.0 points in 14.5 minutes in two games for a team that had no long-term use for him.

"They got (seven) rookies on the team in Washington," Bibby said. "I don't want to say they're rebuilding but they're probably looking for guys, for a younger team. So coming (to Miami) I just figured I get a chance to play and be able to show people I can still play."

Some of that is debatable. After averaging 7.3 points and shooting 43.7 percent in 22 regular-season games, Bibby is averaging just 3.9 points and shooting 27.8 percent in 14 playoff games.

But Bibby has started throughout the postseason, and Miami is 11-3. So coach Erik Spoelstra has kept his backcourt intact even as Heat star forward LeBron James has been reminding Bibby each day to try to look at least somewhat like the guy who four times averaged more than 17 points in a season while playing for the Kings from 2001-08.

"We just tell him to be aggressive," James said. "We've seen him in enough postseasons, and he's made enough big shots. We need him to be more aggressive. We need him to take more shots and not look to pass the ball so much. We got enough guys that make plays for others on the team. Honestly, on a team like this, when you have myself who passes the ball out and (Dwayne Wade does), we need scoring point guards... I tell him that every day (to be more aggressive)."

Bibby doesn't disagree. He admits he defers too much due to the Heat having scoring stars James, Wade and Chris Bosh.

"Always trying to get it in their hands and knowing they're going to make plays, you kind of get set on that sometimes," said Bibby, shooting 25.5 percent from three-point range in the playoffs while averaging 1.1 assists over 22.3 minutes per night.

While still trying to find his niche, Bibby already knows one thing. He wants to re-sign next season with Miami as a free agent.

"Yeah, definitely," said Bibby, who said Heat officials have yet to say anything to him about the future. "As long as they want to keep me."

Despite his unimpressive numbers, something is working for the Heat when Bibby starts. Including a 10-2 mark in the regular season, the Heat is 21-5 overall when Bibby is introduced before games.

Put it all together, and Bibby is one game away from the NBA Finals for the second time in his career.

Kings fans don't need to be reminded what happened the first time. In the 2002 West finals, Sacramento held a 3-2 lead over the Lakers. But the Kings, who might already have won the series had not Lakers forward Robert Horry thrown in a second-chance three-pointer at the buzzer in Game 4, lost Game 6 on the road 106-102 and Game 7 at home 112-106 in overtime.

"It was heartbreaking," said Bibby, who didn't want to discuss all the controversy regarding officiating that has surfaced over the years about that series. "I think if we had got past that, we would have won it."

Instead, it was the Lakers who then swept undermanned New Jersey 4-0 in the Finals.

As for the Kings, Bibby figured the Kings soon would be back in a conference final. But it didn't happen.

"I wouldn't have believed it," Bibby said about it taking nine years for him to again get this far in the postseason. "You always think the next year it's going to happen but it didn't. But that's the way it goes, and you just got to keep playing. I'm glad I'm still here. Not many people are still here from the (Kings team of 2002). I'm just happy to still be around."

Other remaining active players from that outfit are Dallas forward Peja Stojakovic, Orlando forward Hedo Turkoglu and Portland forward Gerald Wallace. Turkoglu reached the NBA Finals with the Magic in 2009 and lost to the Lakers and Stojakovic is on the brink of making his first Finals.

The Mavericks lead Oklahoma City 3-1 entering Wednesday's Game 5 of the West final. Bibby said he's happy for Stojakovic, whom he could face in the Finals.

Bibby said it "feels good to have another chance, a good crack" at a title. While Bibby won't say bitter memories of 2002 played a significant role in his decision to give up so much money to get to the title-contending Heat, Wade believes it did.

"He wanted to win," Wade said. "He wanted to be part of an organization that can win. And Mike hasn't been in this position, in these conference finals, since the Sacramento days when they had a big lead and lost it to the Lakers. I think he wanted to put himself back in that position again."

But instead of hearing praise for giving up so much money for the opportunity to win, Bibby has heard criticism. Bibby says he tries to "block out all that." Miami center Joel Anthony says it's hypocritical considering pro athletes also get criticized for putting money ahead of winning.

"It's surprising when people on the outside looking in see an athletic obviously focused on winning and it's not about money," said Heat center Joel Anthony. "That speaks volumes about his dedication. You can't help but respect that."

Although Bibby's mom is hardly on the outside, even she was surprised by Bibby's choice. But Bibby said she has continued to support him throughout the process.

"My mom doesn't dwell on anything. When I was kind of struggling at first at being (in Miami), she was like, 'You made the decision so everything happens for a reason and you got to play it out,'" said Bibby, who averaged 3.8 points in his first five Heat games.

In the postseason, Bibby is struggling once again. But if the Minus Six Million Dollar Man can win his first NBA title don't figure on there being any complaints from his mother.

Chris Tomasson is a veteran NBA writer. Follow Chris on Twitter: @christomasson.

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