Blazer forward has much to prove, but he has to heal first
by: L.e. BASKOW, Darius Miles hasn’t practiced or played this season as he recovers from a knee injury he suffered last season.

Darius Miles is in a curious predicament.

The Trail Blazers' small forward wants to prove to everyone he isn't the slacker he seemed to be much of last season.

But Miles has not practiced in the two-plus weeks since training camp began, and there is no indication he will be back in time for Portland's regular-season opener Nov. 1 at Seattle.

After a pre-camp physical, doctors met with coach Nate McMillan, who decided Miles would be best to rehab his surgically repaired right knee and get himself in better shape.

So Miles works with trainer Jay Jensen and strength and conditioning coach Bobby Medina daily, stretching, lifting weights and strengthening the knee before practice. Miles performs shooting drills but doesn't take an active part in team workouts.

He says his goal is to play in a preseason game or two and be ready for the opener, but the delayed start doesn't bother him at all. 'I came back too soon last season,' he says. 'I don't want that to happen this time.'

McMillan, too, says he doesn't want to rush things with the 6-9 Miles, who is due $34 million over the next four years from a six-year, $48-million contract he signed with Portland in 2004.

'We still want him to lose some weight and get his body fat down,' McMillan says. 'Until he does that, we're not going to put him on the floor. There is no time frame.'

Miles asked to be traded after the season, a result of perceived mistreatment over what he felt was his willingness to put the team first by coming back when he wasn't 100 percent healthy.

'I started last season off great, and then I got hurt,' Miles says. 'When I came back too early, I just felt somebody from the organization or coaching staff should have stepped up and said, 'We're just trying to get what we can out of Darius Miles. Some days he'll be real loose and he can move around a lot. Some days, he'll be real stiff, and we'll just try to get what we can out of him.' I thought somebody should have spoken out instead of letting me take the heat.

'But it's in the past. I ain't dwelling on it. I'm moving on and trying to look forward to this season.'

Miles says he took about two months off after last season to rest the knee. Then he began a rehab and workout regimen in Chicago with Tim Grover, once Michael Jordan's personal trainer.

By sitting out training camp and at least most of the preseason, Miles isn't endearing himself with Blazer fans who aren't inclined to bestow a 'hardest worker' tag on the East St. Louis, Ill., native.

Asked about his reputation in Portland, Miles says, 'I don't know. Some good, some bad. It's not really a concern of mine.'

So his reputation with fans isn't important to him?

'The ones who like me for who I am, it's important,' says Miles, who is in his seventh NBA season but only turned 25 on Oct. 9. 'The ones who don't really like the way I carry myself or my style of play, I can't really do nothing about that. But if I read some of the things that are written about me in the paper, I wouldn't like me, either. I'd probably hate me, if I was a big Blazer fan.'

What's the truth about Darius Miles?

'I love playing basketball,' he says. 'I wouldn't play if I didn't. I don't think I'd be this good in basketball. I wouldn't have the good basketball IQ that I do if I didn't like playing basketball. If I were healthy enough to play and perform at my top level, we probably wouldn't even be having this discussion.'

McMillan talks around the subject but clearly wasn't thrilled Miles waited until a day or two before training camp started before arriving in Portland. McMillan invited all of his players to come to town a month earlier to begin preparation for the season. 'Our guys knew I would have liked for them to be here Sept. 5 and be ready to go,' he says.

Ironically, Miles says he now likes the direction of the team and wants to stay.

'Last year, we were just looking toward rebuilding, and we were supposed to lose. This year is totally different,' he says. 'We're all talking about winning instead of accept losing. I'm not one to accept losing. I hate losing.

'We're a good-looking team now. Just need a couple of minor fixes and a healthy Darius Miles and we'll be all right.'

Miles says once he returns to the team healthy, he should be the starting small forward. Not so fast, McMillan warns.

'I talked to Darius about this,' the coach says. 'His knee will never be 100 percent again because he has had surgery. It's not so much whatever percentage he gets back but what can he give us that's important. It may be 15 minutes a game. It may be 20. If he can give us a good 15, 20, 30 minutes, whatever, that's what we want. I don't know what the minutes will be. I just want them to be hard and productive. Same thing with Zach (Randolph) and everybody else.'

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