Miles searching for redemption with Celtics
Get ready for one of the most compelling and controversial comeback stories in some time.
The newest member of the Boston Celtics, Darius Miles, is attempting to return to the NBA after a two-year absence, almost two years after a microfracture procedure on his injured right knee and after a doctor declared the injury to be career-ending. If Miles is successful to any measurable degree, and that is still up in the air, he will create some financial havoc in Portland, his previous NBA stop, not to mention extract some $18 million out of Trail Blazer owner Paul Allen’s petty cash drawer.
No player has done what the 26-year-old Miles is attempting to do. The Trail Blazers waived him last April 14 after the diagnosis from an independent doctor deemed his knee injury to be such that his career was over. That’s usually a death sentence. But Miles didn’t buy it then and he certainly doesn’t buy it now. Neither do the Celtics or their medical people.
“It was more that the situation was so bad in Portland,’’ Miles said in a recent interview. “I knew I could still play. I knew I still had the ability. I didn’t want it to go that way. The whole situation out there (Portland) drained me, energy-wise. I didn’t really care about playing any more. There was all this stuff other than basketball. I thought it was supposed to be about a basketball.
“I have a son,’’ he went on, referring to his 8-month old. “I want him to see me play. So I wanted another try. If I put it all out there and it doesn’t work, then I’ll have done all I can.”
The Celtics are investing very little in Miles – a non-guaranteed veteran minimum – for a couple reasons: they don’t have to (Miles is still collecting his $9 million-per-year salary bestowed on him by the Blazers, although insurance covers as much as 85 percent of it); and basketball boss Danny Ainge says the low risk-high reward nature of the deal is a no-brainer.
“He picked us,” Ainge said of Miles. “Where we are now and the stability we have allows us to take a chance on him.”
Miles did, indeed, pick the Celtics for a number of reasons. He has long idolized Kevin Garnett; he followed Garnett when Garnett played at Farragut Academy in Chicago and Miles lived downstate in East St. Louis. The two of them were on the cover of Sports Illustrated before Miles ever played a game in the NBA. He thinks he can be a sixth-man replacement for the departed James Posey, although they have different styles. He wants to win; the next playoff game he appears in will be his first. He has heard good things about Doc Rivers and developed a real interest in the Celtics from watching them play last season while he was on Portland’s inactive list, rehabbing and trying to get back on the floor.
Plus, there’s the history.
“I would have come here (to Boston) for $5 and a bag of Doritos,” he said. “A guy who was told he had a career-ending injury and ends up on the team that just won a championship? And the only way I do that is if I’m playing, and that means I’m healthy? I made the champs’ team? It doesn’t get any better than that.
“Coming into this gym is like walking into history,” he continued. “As soon as you come here, you feel it. You see these old-school pictures of Red Auerbach and Bill Russell. And it’s the only practice facility I’ve seen that has (championship) banners. I want to be whatever they want me to be. I want to be a part of this team. This is the ultimate situation. I would have played on this team whether I got a check or not.”
Miles’ agent, Jeff Wechsler, said there was a lot of interest in his client and a few workouts as well. (The New Jersey Nets were one of the teams who had Miles in.) Many of them were willing to offer Miles more than $5 and a bag of Doritos.
“He could have gotten more money, guaranteed money, but he didn’t want that,” Wechsler said. “In this case, it really wasn’t about the money. He’s getting paid (by Portland.) Boston is where he wanted to go. He’s in a situation where he can win. He’s around a good group of guys. That’s key.”
(If and when Miles is able to play, he will have to sit out 10 games due to a suspension for violating the league’s drug policy. The NBA has not officially announced the suspension, which was first reported by The Oregonian.)
Watching this unfold with more than your ordinary degree of interest are the basketball folks in Portland. A successful Miles return (10 or more games either this year or next year) would force the Blazers to add Miles’ full salary on their cap. It currently is off because of the doctor’s diagnosis. That’s $9 million this year and next year for a guy playing on someone else’s team. A Blazers spokesman said Kevin Pritchard, Portland’s general manager, was on vacation and unavailable for comment.
Miles’ last game as a Blazer was on April 15, 2006. He had returned from an arthroscopic procedure on his right knee earlier in that season, probably sooner than he should have. When he returned to camp in the fall, the knee was still giving him problems and he underwent the serious microfracture procedure in November. That ended the 2006-07 season. But he missed all of last season as well, even though his personal trainer/strength-and-conditioning coach, Robin Pound, said all the progress reports presented to the Portland medical team were positive.
“At our last meeting,” Pound recalled, “they told Darius, ‘the only thing left now is for you to go back to the team.”
Pound had been hired by Portland in 2007 to specifically rehab Miles. He had him for several months. The Blazers let Pound go last December, a week after a final meeting with Portland’s medical team. But Miles never did go back to the team. He had an Achilles’ strain which set him back. When the Blazers finally waived Miles, he reconnected with Pound in Phoenix, enduring two-a-day workouts, the first of which started at 7 a.m.
“I was testing his commitment, his drive, his hunger, as much as anything,” Pound said. “I wanted to see if he really, really wanted it, how much he was willing to sacrifice. I had him for three months, so you could say he passed those tests. If he hadn’t been willing, I would have thrown him out of the gym and run him out of town. But he did everything I asked him to do.”
Pound said the Darius Miles who hooked up with him in April was not the same Darius Miles he had left in Portland five months earlier. He was not in the same shape. His conditioning needed to be addressed. After three months, Pound said, he had done everything he could do for Miles.
Pound said Miles was able to touch the white square on the backboard jumping off either leg, with there being only a slight difference when he took off from his left leg. Most healthy NBA players can’t do that, Pound said, because they have one dominant jumping leg.
“But after everything we did, we still don’t know if it will translate into playing five-on-five, NBA-style basketball,” Pound said. “He hasn’t done that in two years.”
No one needs to remind Miles of that gap in his career. He had been the high school-to-NBA can’t-miss star when the Los Angeles Clippers drafted him No. 3 overall in 2000, then the highest-ever pick for a high-school player. But the Clippers didn’t win and Miles was soon traded to Cleveland. The Cavs didn’t win, either, and he was soon traded to Portland.
The Blazers not only didn’t win, but a group of them were also miscreants off the floor. Miles is most remembered for a celebrated cussing-out of former coach Maurice Cheeks in 2005 which resulted in a team-imposed, two-game suspension. But Miles was lumped into the group known as the Jail Blazers – some of it because of his own actions, which he admits – and he knows that he’s fighting to redeem a reputation almost as much as he is to recover from a knee injury.
“I’ve been on both sides,” Miles said. “I’ve been where I can do no wrong, where my jersey is selling top-five, doing movies, commercials, in the limelight. Once I turned down the limelight because I didn’t really like it, I got portrayed as a bad guy. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a bad guy.
“That team (Portland) wanted to move on, away from me, and once that happened, I understood and let it be. That whole situation was a negative situation and I went through it for four years. It’s tiring. I want to hear some positive stuff. I don’t ever remember a bad article being written about me until I got to Portland. I’m not saying it’s a bad place. It’s a great organization. I love (owner) Paul Allen. Larry Miller, the president, a great guy. The players are great. It just didn’t work out. One little thing turned into a big thing. They didn’t want me. And I don’t want to be where I’m not wanted. Danny Ainge gave me a chance to redeem myself.”