A onetime phenom, Miles trying for unprecedented comeback
LAS VEGAS -- Darius Miles apologized. Could he pause our interview for a moment? His cousin was waiting in the reception area. And then Miles ran across the casino floor of Caesars Palace without limp or hitch.
Miles had just arrived in Las Vegas on Monday to audition for the Mavericks at a private workout the following morning. By all accounts, it went well.
"He was much better than I thought he would be,'' a member of the Mavericks' camp said. "On a scale of 1 to 10, I was expecting him to be 6. But he was a good, solid 8.''
The 6-foot-9 Miles was exhausted by the 90-minute workout. At the end, however, he jumped flat-footed and touched the top of the backboard square.
"I'm physically 100 percent,'' Miles said in his first interview since attempting a comeback unprecedented in this salary-cap era. "I'm not in [basketball] shape, but healthwise and bodywise I'm 100 percent. I've got the explosion, I can move.''
Such details matter because Miles is trying to become the first player to return from an injury that was deemed to be "career-ending'' by the NBA. If he were to sign a new contract and play in 10 or more games this season, his $9 million salary would go back on Portland's books -- though his return would not affect the Trail Blazers as badly as has been advertised.
Miles underwent microfracture surgery to repair his right knee in November 2006. He hasn't played since, and he was released by the Blazers in April after the "career-ending'' judgment was made by an independent medical examiner appointed by the NBA and the players' union.
In recent weeks, Miles has had workouts -- ranging from two hours to less than 30 minutes -- with the Nets, Celtics, Suns and Mavericks, all of whom controlled the terms while asking Miles to compete against other players. For his part, the 26-year-old Miles is looking to join a postseason contender after having never made the playoffs during his six seasons on the court.
"I feel like I'm a starter in this league -- on a lot of teams I really should be a starter,'' he said. "But I would love to go to a playoff team to come off the bench.''
Already assured of making $18 million over the next two seasons from his guaranteed Blazers contract, Miles is seeking a minimal contract with an option to become a free agent after the season -- gambling that he will rejuvenate his value on the court this year. A crucial aspect of any new contract would provide his next team with an exclusion should he reinjure the knee, in which case the team could release Miles without paying the remainder of his salary.
Several factors are working against Miles' comeback. He must miss the first 10 games of next season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. The news of his negative drug test was revealed to every team in a letter from the league, and the information was leaked to The Oregonian. Based on the length of his first-time suspension, teams are assuming that Miles tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
In addition, Miles has a reputation for being a poor example to young teammates. "I've heard horror stories about him,'' said an NBA head coach who has never worked with Miles. His notoriety is based on a locker-room confrontation with coach Maurice Cheeks with the Blazers, to whom he had been traded by the Cavaliers in 2004 in belief that he couldn't coexist with LeBron James. (The Clippers traded him to Cleveland two years after drafting him with the No. 3 pick in 2000.) Over his final year with Portland, he was permitted to rehab at the Blazers' facilities but not when his fellow teammates were there.
"I wouldn't label him as a bad guy,'' said an assistant coach who has spent time with Miles in the NBA. "I've wondered if he loves to play. Because he was such a prodigy in AAU, he was always handled with kid gloves, so in the NBA he couldn't take somebody always being on him. But I don't think of him as a 'cancer'-type person in the locker room. I don't think he has the personality to have that kind of impact on his teammates.''