Blazers hope to get mileage from trade

Latest acquisition Darius Miles has speed, athletic ability

Darius Miles' 3 1/2-year NBA career can be summarized this way: long on potential and flash, short on consistency and substance.

That said, Miles is 22. The Trail Blazers, who acquired him Wednesday in a trade that sent point guard Jeff McInnis and reserve center Ruben Boumtje Boumtje to Cleveland, are hopeful he will flourish in a new environment.

Miles came out of East St. Louis (Mo.) High as the No. 3 player in the 2000 draft, taken by the L.A. Clippers as a projected star. He is considered a good person with unusual athleticism but limited shooting range and comprehension of the game.

This is an important time for the sinewy, electric-legged Miles, who is listed at 210 pounds but is probably closer to 220. He can become a restricted free agent in June, and Portland will have the opportunity to tender a qualifying offer or match an offer from another team. If the Blazers aren't impressed, they can let him walk or work a sign-and-trade deal for him.

'Darius is a player with tremendous upside potential,' Portland General Manager John Nash says. 'It is a rare opportunity for us, with very little risk to it in our estimation. We have 40-some games left in our (regular) season. We get a short-term look at a player, but it's long enough to make an intelligent decision about his future with us.'

There are reasons why Miles is on his third team in four years in the NBA. While he hasn't burned bridges, he hasn't built them, either.

Traded twice

Miles was the first player straight out of high school to be named first-team All-Rookie. He averaged 9.4 points and 5.9 rebounds while shooting .505 from the floor in 2000-01. He displayed speed and hops and an ability to run and dunk in the open court. He had a similar season the next year, averaging 9.5 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting .481.

That summer, he was traded to Cleveland in the deal that brought point guard Andre Miller to the Clippers. The Cavaliers held great hopes that Miles would be a difference-maker, but after knee surgery in June 2002, he was slow to come on as a starter in 2002-03, averaging 9.2 points and 5.4 rebounds but shooting only .410 in 67 games. Those close to the scene wonder if he spent too much time on the set shooting a movie that summer and not enough in the gym and weight room.

'Darius hadn't rehabbed the knee properly, so we sat him down for 13 games early in the season to get him healthy,' says Jim Paxson, Cleveland's president and GM. 'Since then he hasn't been able to do all the things we envisioned. He is like a lot of young players Ñ flashes of things really special, but still working on a level of consistency.'

Miles averaged 8.9 points and 4.5 rebounds while shooting .432 as a part-time starter in 37 games for Cleveland this season, and new coach Paul Silas had used him as many as 20 minutes in only three of the team's nine games in January.

Observers say Miles hasn't yet found his game in the NBA.

'Quite frankly, I have been disappointed,' says former NBA head coach Matt Guokas, a TV analyst for Cavalier games this season. 'When Darius came into the league out of high school, I saw potential greatness. He showed signs of being a very exciting player the first two years with the Clippers, given the style they were trying to play and his role coming off the bench as a guy to inject energy. He did that nicely. He was pretty consistent those two years and put up respectable numbers and did make the exciting plays and fulfilled his role.

'Coming to Cleveland, he was injected into the starting lineup and was given way too much playing time for where he was as a player. Last year, he wasn't in proper condition to play but was thrown in as a starter playing 30 minutes a game, and it hit him like a 2-ton truck.'

Says Paxson: 'Darius is a good kid; he is just young. And the expectations were so high here. Maybe we didn't do the best job of putting him in a situation to succeed. Portland will have a more defined role for him.'

Exciting but inconsistent

Guokas has a mixed impression of Miles' talents.

'Darius does not have a refined offensive game,' Guokas says. 'He is not a good shooter, and he is an erratic player. He is a young guy who doesn't understand the game right now. He has a fabulous physique, can make some exciting plays and is a good middle man on the break who can make the correct pass. At times, Paul used him to defend people, on players like Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. He is pretty good at times, but it is not consistent. The mind drifts a little bit.'

Miles' open-court skills were wasted in Cleveland, with its dearth of point-guard play.

'I'll be you he didn't dunk the ball five times last year,' Guokas says. 'They didn't have a real good point guard situation, so there was nobody to deliver.'

Portland coach Maurice Cheeks says Miles will play some small forward and will get a look at backup point guard, too.

'Everybody looks at the guy and figures him as a 1, maybe because he can handle well enough to get the ball up the floor,' Guokas says. '(Previous Cleveland coach) John Lucas tried him, and it was a disaster. Paul tried it in training camp and the preseason, and it was a disaster. He is a 3 all the way.'

Paxson considers Miles a '4-3,' meaning a power forward first, small forward second. 'He is an effort player who can get things done around the basket,' the Cleveland GM says.

Guokas doesn't disagree with the assessment.

'Darius can be a pretty strong post player, especially when you put a smaller defender on him,' Guokas says. 'I have seen him muscle some guys the last few weeks very effectively. Again, it is not consistent. He will tease you one night, put up some good numbers, do some good things, and then the next night, he is not mentally there.

'Darius finishing the fast break is what the fans want to see. He will electrify the crowd from time to time. He has improved his jump shot, but he has a way to go. Last year, I heard his work ethic was not good. My sense is it is not quite where it needs to be yet.'

Plenty of potential

Dennis Johnson, the Portland advance scout who served as an assistant coach for the Clippers during Miles' two years there, gave a positive recommendation to the Blazer brass. The two remain close, and Johnson says he learned of the trade Wednesday via a phone call from Miles.

'Darius still has the potential to be a very good player,' Johnson says. 'He is a pretty good offensive rebounder, with a nose for the ball. And he can get out and run. Maurice wants to do more of that Ñ get out and push the ball up court. He can handle the ball some, and he plays the passing lanes on defense real well because of his quickness. He has to get better with his shooting and on-ball defense, but he will do that with time.'

Miles hasn't developed as quickly as many predicted in losing situations with the Clippers and Cavaliers.

'After four years in the league, some might say the bloom is off the rose,' Nash says. 'But he is only 22 and has been in some unstable situations as a player. He played in a loosey-goosey system under John and Paul, in a high-flying act where his teams weren't winning any games. What Maurice has to do is try to see if he can turn him into a player who can contribute to a winning situation.'

Johnson gives Miles a thumbs-up review in character.

'It is unquestionably good,' Johnson says. 'His mother moved to L.A. and lived with him his two years there. He is a good kid who loves the game of basketball. We used to joke about the way, before every game, he would go up to opposing coaches and players and even officials and shake hands and thank them for playing and taking part.'

Guokas agrees, and says Miles missing Monday's practice Ñ he says he forgot to set his alarm clock Ñ is an aberration.

'I would give him a pass on that,' Guokas says. 'He hasn't had a problem with that kind of thing at all.'

Needed a veteran

Paxson says the Cavaliers didn't give up on Miles, Rather, the chance to obtain a veteran point guard, so that rookie LeBron James could play on the wing, was too good to pass up.

'We were looking for a veteran point guard so LeBron wouldn't have to do so much handling the ball and getting us into our offense,' Paxson says. 'Darius was making progress in the things we wanted him to do, but we felt we needed to upgrade the point guard position. It is hard to get a veteran like Jeff.'

McInnis was expendable to Portland because he has a much more tradable contract than Damon Stoudamire, and because there wasn't going to be enough playing time to keep McInnis happy here. McInnis' expressions of discontent over the past week didn't force Portland's hand, but probably expedited his departure.

'Jeff played extremely well for us, but with Derek (Anderson) back and Wesley (Person) backing him up, Jeff's minutes were going to be cut down,' Cheeks says. 'That's a tough situation for him.'

Guokas says it is a good acquisition for the Blazers, given the circumstances.

'Darius has been traded twice and is in a contract situation, so he needs to perform,' Guokas says. 'He can play in the league, but he may never get into the big money if he doesn't show it now. He is worth what you have to consider a free look by Portland. He is a good person in the community, so he fits that part of it. And the fans will love the way he plays.'

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