Seeing Darius Miles and his played out “double fist head tap” routine last night on the court with the Memphis Grizzlies made me shake my head, laugh, and smile as I look back to his time in Cleveland. He has made headlines of late, thanks to the Portland Trail Blazers threat of a lawsuit on any team that signs him (thanks to his “career ending” injury and the Portland cap space situation). Believe it or not folks, while you may view Mark Price, Brad Daughrety, and Austin Carr as perhaps the most important Cavaliers in history, I for one put the lanky, straight out of high school, lottery bust in the same category.
Indulge me if you will…..
If you haven’t read The Franchise by Terry Pluto and Brian Windhorst, go out and get it. It’s a must-read for all Cavs fans, especially knowing what you know now about Lebron James. The book chronicles all of the things that led the Cavs to the position they were in to get Lebron as the #1 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. A big part of the organization’s sink to the bottom of the NBA ocean, was then-GM John Paxson’s 2002 off-season gutting of the team.
The Cavaliers were in the unenviable position of not good enough to get to the playoffs, but not bad enough to get a legitimate shot to win the lottery, which in 2003, had the biggest prize in decades – Lebron James. The owned the #6 pick and had an All-Star Caliber Point Guard in Andre Miller. As told by Pluto and Windhorst:
On draft day 2002, the Cavs were determined to trade Miller. Portland had little the Cavs wanted, but the Clippers seemed interested in Miller and were willing to part with the #8 pick and Lamar Odom. That trade was very close to coming off, but it had to be approved by Clippers owner Donald Sterling. NBA people know Sterling is notorious for stalling, changing his mind, and it can be hard to figure out if he’s serious…..
They could never get Sterling and Clippers GM Elgin Baylor to agree to a trade. The Clippers then passed up Caron Butler (the player Paxson coveted), who went to Miami at #10.
So the Cavs, who drafted uber-bust Dajuan Wagner at #6, still had Miller. A month later, out of the clear blue, Miller was sent to the Clippers after all, for the great Darius Miles. At the time, I remember GM Jim Paxson trying to sell it as a youth movement. If you recall, Miles, 20 years old at the time of the trade, was an All-Rookie team selection in 2000, despite averaging less than 10 points a game and essentially doing nothing but catching alley-oops from fellow rookie Quentin Richardson.
The thing about Miles that was always intriguing to NBA fans, not necessarily NBA scouts and coaches, was he liked to play the up and down style and was a highlight reel of dunks. The truth about his game was that he was never coached and had no feel for the game. He shot 50% from the free throw line, 49% from the field, and had no three-point range, despite attempting plenty of them. But man, could he dunk!
So now, the Cavaliers headed into the 02-03 season with head-case Ricky Davis and the un-coached and (we would soon find out) un-coachable Darius Miles as the poster boys for the team. In fact, the PR department put both players on the cover of the media guide. How did they know things wouldn’t work out? As quoted in the book, Cavaliers VP of Communications Tad Carper told the following story:
“We put Ricky Davis and Darius Miles on the cover of the media guide, We hyped them to the media as some of the young players whom we’ll be building on for the future. Then came media day, and neither one showed up. Darius said his alarm clock didn’t go off…and Ricky was somewhere else, out of town.”
Needless to say, the Miles trade, coupled with the ball-hogging of Ricky Davis, and a point guard mix of Milt Palacio, Smush Parker, and Wagner (who wasn’t a point guard), got coach John Lucas fired. The Wine and Gold finished with Keith Smart as the head coach and a final record of 17-65, worst in the NBA. I remember attending a Cavs/Pistons game in Detroit in late April. Watching the lay-up line was a laughable joke. Guys like Parker, Davis, and Miles decided that they were going to have their own dunk contest. They clearly didn’t care one bit about winning or losing. They were just collecting their paychecks.
Think about this – had the Cavs made the deal for Odom and the #8 pick for Andre Miller, they would have ended up with Odom, who at the time was an all-star caliber player, Butler, who started 78 games and averaged 15 points for the Heat a a rookie, as well as their second round gem, Carlos Boozer, to go along with Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Davis. No way that core loses 65 games.
That is why I look back on Darius Miles with such reverence. He gave Paxson exactly what he thought he was getting, 9.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.6 turnovers, 41% from the field, 59% from the line, and a me-first attitude. His “efforts” were a major part of the Cavaliers getting the most ping-pong balls in the 2003 lottery, increasing their chances of landing Lebron.
In the end, it all worked out for everyone. Cleveland won the lottery and drafted James. The organization has become one of the tops in the league, with a forward thinking owner, and a GM who has surrounded James with a perfect cast.
Miles was eventually moved to Portland half-way through Lebron’s rookie year, signed a ridiculous contract with the Blazers based on absolutely nothing and has more money than he’ll ever need. Oh, I forgot to mention his movie role in the 2004 classic “The Perfect Score” with a young Scarlett Johansson. Now, thanks to the lawsuit fiasco, Miles has become somewhat of a sympathetic figure in his quest to return from micro-fracture knee surgery.
What a country.