When CJ Miles was selected with the 34th-overall selection in 2005, he had the benefit of landing in a stable environment. Not only did he enter the league with one of the most highly touted point guards in Deron Williams, but Miles was quickly taken under the wings of Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko. During his second season, the Dallas native clung to Derek Fisher, a player who Miles says taught him more in a seven-month span than at any other time he has been in the league.
And now, despite being just 26 years of age, Miles enters his ninth season in the league and knows that he has to start paying it forward.
Sure, working out with teammates is always a good thing when it comes to off-season training. Miles frequently utilized Social Media avenues (under his pseudonym “Masfresco”) to not only talk about his hip-hop hobby, but to share images and videos of his sweat-filled training sessions which often occurred more than once per day. But what many fans may have not known is that the heady swingman spent plenty of time out on the west coast in addition to Dallas, Texas, partaking in training sessions organized by Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving. In Las Vegas as well as California, Irving was joined by second-year guard Dion Waiters, rookie guard Carrick Felix and others, but it was Miles who was the senior member. And it is Miles who the younger players—like Felix—are clinging to as a mentor.
“It’s weird,” Miles told WFNY of now being looked at in a role model capacity. “I feel like I’m still young, but at the same time, I realize that I’ve been around.”
It’s no secret that Miles’ first season with the Cavaliers did not go as planned. The first full month of play saw Miles shoot 29 percent from the floor. He was struggling to fit in with an entirely new system and often found himself pressing. There were three games over the course of the first three weeks where Miles failed to hit a field goal. Fans grew impatient, the volume of their complaints getting louder as the team managed to win just four of their first 20 contests. But Miles would not be deterred, and he credits a lot of his mental toughness to those he played alongside through his early years in the league.
During his exit interview with Chris Grant, Miles (being contractually connected to the Cavaliers through only a team option for this coming season) made it immediately known that he wanted to be a part of the team’s ascension. Despite it not being one of his most productive seasons from a statistical standpoint, Miles was determined to pick up right where he left off—the month of March saw the swingman post 10 games with double-digit scoring efforts. He was determined to have a role on a team that has only added more talent at positions which he plays.
While Miles won’t go as far as to say that his work ethic would have changed had he wound up in a more toxic environment—say something similar to JJ Hickson, 2010—he does admit that having a mentor to help cushion the psyche of young players who may not be accustomed to losing is a benefit that not all franchises have been afforded.
“The biggest thing is to keep getting better as a basketball team,” said Miles. “Last year, I struggled at the beginning of the season, but I was able to prove what I could do to help this team. Once I got comfortable and found my role, my biggest thing is to just grow that way and help my teammates in any way that I can.”
Miles compares this year’s Cavaliers roster to his fourth or fifth year in the league. A team that is no longer full of loose parts and a revolving door at specific positions, the veteran deemed it more “close knit,” a group of guys who is more family than anything else, joking around, doing things together off of the court. Not that the past few seasons have been rife with tension, but players tend to play better with guys whom they get along with. There may not be sideline two-steps or Rick Astley-fueled air guitars, but Cavalier fans may find themselves watching the closest group of guys to wear Wine and Gold since the postseason runs of the late-aughts. “The atmosphere, the camaraderie, it all makes a difference,” Miles said.
There’s no telling how much time Miles will see this coming season. As busy as the shooting guard has been since the end of last season, Chris Grant put in his fair share of work, adding Felix and the Russian scoring threat Sergey Karasev and at shooting guard, Earl Clark at small forward and the first-overall pick Anthony Bennett at the power forward spot. With new Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown in tow, the veteran spent a good portion of this season doing drills that will serve to aid his defensive efforts, the facet of the game which he says is “90 percent effort,” but a facet of the game which Miles knows will earn him some good graces.
During Monday afternoon’s Media Day, Miles took a bold approach to inquires about the 2013-14 NBA Playoffs, saying that he’s 100 percent certain that this team, as currently comprised, can be playing beyond their 82-game regular season schedule.
“People should be afraid to come into our building,” Miles said. “We’re a young, athletic team with one of the best point guards in the league.”
When Miles was in Utah, he played alongside a budding superstar in Deron Williams. Talent wise, Williams has been replaced by Irving, another point guard who is on the precipice of being of the best players in the league. Coaching wise, Jerry Sloan has been replaced by Mike Brown, another demanding, defensive-minded figurehead who demands accountability from his players. But mentor wise, Derek Fisher is now CJ Miles, a player who, despite an uncertain future and a first season in Cleveland that didn’t exactly go as planned, is ready to roll with his new role.