Darius’ long road back to the NBA

By The Associated Press
Updated: June 17, 2010

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On the same day as Game 7 of the NBA Finals, Darius Miles is running the floor alongside several players who have never been in the NBA and perhaps never will.

It was hardly the place for a former No. 3 overall pick in the draft. But following what was once called a “career-ending” knee injury and off-court problems, Miles is determined to overcome the rustiness and his balky knee to play in the NBA again.

If it requires being a grunt in the Charlotte Bobcats’ obscure free-agent camp the same week the league crowns a champion, so be it.

“For a guy like him to come in this kind of setting speaks well for him,” Bobcats coach Larry Brown said. “It shows you how much he wants to play.”

For Miles it’s simple. He’s worked on his jump shot, still feels he has the quickness that made him so difficult to guard, and he has incentive to overcome the obstacles that have left him out of the league for more than a year.

“My son is two years old and he’s never got a chance to see me play. I want him to get the experience of being in an arena,” Miles said. “I’m 28 years old. I’ve got at least five or six good years left in me if my body holds up. I just want to be part of something, part of something that means something.”

That seemed certain in 2001 when Miles became the first player to come straight from high school to make the NBA’s All-Rookie team. Known for his tremendous athletic ability, the 6-foot-9 Miles missed only one game in his first two seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Soon, though, trouble found Miles. After two years in Cleveland, Miles was traded to Portland. He averaged double figures in points in each of his three seasons there, but also clashed with Trail Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks. He then injured his right knee late in the 2005-06 season, when he averaged a career-best 14 points in 40 games.

Miles spent the next two years out of the league after undergoing risky microfracture surgery in November 2006. Soon an independent doctor determined Miles had suffered a career-ending injury, allowing the Blazers to shed $18 million off their salary cap.

Miles, though, wouldn’t retire, and began working on reinventing his game.

“I had a God-gift (talent) and never thought it would be taken away from me,” Miles said. “I probably would have never worked on my jump shot. Like never, because I can always get to the basket and jump higher than everybody. But it got to the point where you can’t do that anymore so you’ve got to work on your jumper.”

Portland’s salary cap relief plan was foiled when Miles and his newfound shooting stroke signed with Memphis early in the 2008-09 season. He had to sit out 10 games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, but finished the season with the Grizzlies.

But Miles ran into further legal trouble soon after the season ended when he was arrested in Illinois on a marijuana possession charge. The Grizzlies decided not to re-sign him.

Miles hasn’t resurfaced in the NBA since, yet he’s confident after undergoing another knee surgery last year.

“My body is back,” he said after a workout at Time Warner Cable Arena this week. “It’s been three, four years since I’ve been healthy. This time I took off I really just kind of worked on getting my body healed.”

Charlotte’s Brown never forgot about Miles, whose long, athletic frame feeds Brown’s craving of players who can play multiple positions.

“It’s been 10 years I’ve been trying to get him in a gym,” Brown said. “Finally did it.”

Added Miles: “Coach Brown, he’s always been supportive of me. It’s funny because every time I used to play against him he was always, ‘I want to coach you.’ I thought it would never happen. It’s crazy that it’s happened this way.”

While Brown said Miles is in decent shape, he’s still a long way from earning a roster spot. The good news for Miles is that owner Michael Jordan has been watching the workouts this week. Charlotte has roster openings for next season, and Miles could get an invite to training camp by signing a non-guaranteed contract.

“Whatever I’ve got to do to get on the team or whatever, whatever they need me to do,” Miles said. “Like a lot of situations, I was used to being the first or second option. Coming to a situation like this, it’s new for me, being in a free agent camp and all this stuff.

“I’m just trying to listen and learn and follow the lead.”