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Posted: Thursday July 17, 2008 12:05PM; Updated: Thursday July 17, 2008 12:24PM
Ian Thomsen Ian Thomsen >

Miles attempting unprecedented comeback (cont.)

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Darius Miles appeared on the SI cover before his first NBA game, in 2000.
Darius Miles appeared on the SI cover before his first NBA game, in 2000.
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Miles doesn't understand his negative reputation.

"When I was with the Clippers, we were always family-oriented,'' said Miles, who was a 19-year-old phenom when he joined the Clippers. "My mom would cook and almost the whole team would come over. I used to throw fight parties or Super Bowl parties and invite the players. Some would come, some didn't.''

While Miles disagrees that he has set a bad example, he admits that he needs to play on a veteran team for the first time.

"Coming back into this league, I've got to be on a team where I look up to the players,'' he said. "I've been on the good side, where everything is good for you -- fans, shoe commercials, movie deals, my jersey in the top five. Then I'm on that side where I'm just labeled this criminal, this thug, this bad guy -- 'He can't be coached.' I've been on both sides and it's funny, I don't know how I went from that side to this side. I don't have a [criminal] record. I don't do anything out of the ordinary. I never had problems with my teammates. It's crazy how you get labeled.''

Before he had played a game for the Clippers, Miles made the cover of Sports Illustrated's NBA preview alongside his idol, Kevin Garnett. Miles had been viewed as the next versatile star. But he wasn't forced to confront his potential until he was released by the Blazers. Was he going to live off his $60 million in NBA earnings? Or was he going to try to play again?

"The truth is, [Maurice] Cheeks was the best coach I had because he was the first person who told me I had way more [potential] than I was giving,'' Miles said.

In April, he moved to Phoenix for three months of twice-daily workouts with former Suns trainer Robin Pound, who scheduled the first workout at 7 a.m. to test Miles' commitment. While Miles needs to lose weight, he looks stronger than the skinny teenager who was seen as the future of basketball.

"[Robin] told me, 'You don't want to have no regrets,' '' Miles said.

One executive at the Las Vegas summer league who has been following the details of Miles' comeback predicts that he'll be playing in the league next year; another calls it a "no-brainer'' that a team will sign him.

If he is unable to come back, the Blazers will enter next summer with $24 million or more to spend on free agents. Miles' return for at least 10 games would cause his $9 million salary to go back on their books, but it wouldn't kill their hopes of recruiting a star because they would still have close to $15 million to offer to a max free agent. They could pry open more cap space by making a trade or two, and with so much young talent already -- including Greg Oden, Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and rookie Rudy Fernandez -- the Blazers will be strong regardless of Miles' outcome.

Should Miles play 10 games and reinjure the knee, the Blazers could apply for a reinstatement of the career-ending exception and retrieve the $9 million in cap space.

"There's no pain, no swelling,'' Miles said. "Say if a team signs me tomorrow: I'm going directly to that state, buy me a house and start working out with them all the way up to training camp. I'm just hoping it's a playoff team.''

Did basketball come too easily for him? If Miles used to take his talent for granted, he doesn't anymore. He is working hard to recover his gifts.

"I just had a son, he's six months old, and I want my son to see me play basketball,'' Miles said. "I want to get that adrenaline rush. I don't see myself getting it nowhere else but in a big old arena with a bunch of people, and your heart beating. But it's not a scary beating; it's a hyped kind of beating. You know what I'm saying?''

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