10.01.2008

Darius Miles Wanted to Play Last Season

Oregonian, The (Portland, OR)
Copyright 2007 Oregonian Publishing Co.
December 6, 2007
Section: Sports
Miles says he'll play this season
JASON QUICK


TUALATIN --Proclaiming he is 90 percent healthy and saying he is certain that he will play this season, forward Darius Miles returned to the Trail Blazers this week after spending 13 months rehabilitating his surgically repaired right knee.

Miles, who is in the fourth year of a six-year deal worth $48 million, is cleared to participate only in drills, not full-fledged practices. The team said it would evaluate his progress in six weeks to determine if he is ready to take part in the team's full workouts.

"It's a different level in practice," said assistant coach Bill Bayno, who will supervise Miles' workouts. "You don't want to rush it."

Miles underwent microfracture surgery --the most serious of knee procedures --on his right knee in November 2006, 11 months after he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Recovery from microfracture surgeries typically takes from six to 12 months, but Miles was considered to have had a more serious microfracture surgery than those performed on Blazers rookie Greg Oden and former Blazers forward Zach Randolph.

The Blazers on Wednesday termed Miles' return a "reintegration" of the forward into the team. For the past year, Miles has had mostly informal contact with the team as he worked independently with Robin Pound, a trainer hired by the Blazers because of his experience in rehabilitating Jason Kidd and Amare Stoudemire, two other NBA players who underwent microfracture surgery. As the team would be leaving after practice, Miles would arrive for his sessions with Pound.

"We would see him a little bit, and talk to him a little bit, but our schedules have been so different," Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. "I think it's such a good thing to see him out there. He's been through a lot, because I know as a player that sitting out a year is a long, long time. So to see him out there, smiling and stuff, it's good for him."

Now, Miles will spend the ensuing weeks attending practice, where Bayno will incorporate gamelike drills against rookie forward Josh McRoberts while the rest of the team goes through its workout on an adjoining court. Miles' first session was a solo workout Tuesday, and on Wednesday he went head-to-head with McRoberts.

"I felt good," Miles said Wednesday after his 45-minute workout. "Real good."

Nobody on the Blazers' training or coaching staffs was ready to endorse Miles' assertion that he would return to the court this season, saying they plan to take a cautious approach to this next step in his rehabilitation.

Even if Miles does return this season, the consensus is that he won't be the same player who once scored 47 points against Denver, or the one who averaged a career-high 18.2 points in the first 15 games of 2005 before needing left knee surgery.

If anything was apparent during Wednesday's high-intensity workout, it was that Miles has limited lift jumping off his right leg compared with jumping off his left.

"He's not going to be the old Darius --he's not going to have the freak athleticism," Bayno said. "But he has lift going to his right, and the one thing we are going to work on is making his opposite hand (left) a weapon."

Miles, who said he is at his playing weight of 225 pounds, looked rusty at times during his workout, once drawing catcalls from teammate Martell Webster, who from afar watched Miles mishandle a pass and bobble it out of bounds.

"It's a slow process, Darius," Webster shouted across the court while smiling. "Concentrate on holding onto the ball first."

However, Miles was constantly praised by Bayno for his footwork and his shot, which was more hit than miss. And late in Wednesday's workout, Miles had two emphatic dunks over McRoberts after he drove to his right.

Miles said he is not concerned about driving left --which usually prompts a player to lift off his left leg --because he always has been a left-leg jumper.

"I can't remember in my whole career jumping off my right leg," Miles said. "Even if I did make left-handed layups, I would jump off my left and switch to my right."

Miles said his confidence is "way high," so much so that there "is no question in my mind" that he will return to the court this season. The reason for that confidence, Miles says, is that his knees finally feel healthy.

"This is the first time in the past 31/2 years that I feel at least 90 percent healthy," Miles said. "Every other year, I felt 70 to 75 percent healthy. There were days I felt good, and some days I felt down."

Coach Nate McMillan said he will take a wait-and-see approach with Miles, adding that "we are a ways off" from talking about him returning to game action.

"But it's nice to see him on the court," McMillan said.

McMillan said a key factor in Miles' return will be whether he shows hesitation in jumping in traffic and whether his body can handle the bump-and-grind of high-level action. Bayno said he has been impressed with what he has seen in two workouts.

"With those knees, the one thing we are looking at is his ability to stop on a dime, and he has been doing that," Bayno said. "On his attacking moves --I call it the one-two-step --he is driving it hard, getting the defense low, and boom, boom! One-two, he is in his shot. It's sharp, precise and he's going at it in game speed."

When, or whether, Miles will get to go at that speed in a game remains to be seen.

"I'm so anxious," Miles said. "I want to at least do halfcourt stuff now, but they are holding me back, and that's the smart thing to do. I just have to go through the process."

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