For the second straight year, CJ Miles will not be playing for the Utah Jazz in the Rocky Mountain Revue. Couple this with his restricted free agent status, and it appears that young Mr. Miles may not be long for the Wasatch Front. What happened?
The Utah Jazz selected Calvin Andre Miles, Jr., with the 34th pick of the 2005 NBA draft. Brimming with youth and athleticism, talent and good spirits, the 6'6" 18-year-old seemed the perfect sort of player to pair with draft-mate Deron Williams in the Utah backcourt. He could have been playing with LaMarcus Aldridge and a talented Texas Longhorns squad, and when he wasn't chosen in the first round, he seemed ready to do just that. But the Jazz convinced him with guaranteed first-round money, despite his second-round selection, and CJ became a Jazzman.
Miles played a mere 9 minutes per game in 23 appearances with the Jazz in the 05-06 season, averaging 3.4 points and 1.7 rebounds. For the most part, CJ spent his time with the Albuquerque Thunderbirds of the D-League, where he showed flashes of tantalizing talent. In the end, the Jazz missed the playoffs, but CJ was expected to continue development.
In 2006, CJ played excellent preseason ball, earning a starting position on a team desperate for help at 2-guard (having drafted Arkansas' Ronnie Brewer in the offseason for that purpose). To the surprise of many, the young Jazz leapt out to a 12-1 start, and CJ played an integral role. But he seemed to lose confidence at times, failing to concentrate defensively and seeming to get on Jerry Sloan's bad side (Sloan was quoted as saying of CJ, "We can't put diapers on him one night, and a jockstrap the next night. It's just the way it is"). This was one of the first hints of trouble for CJ in Jazzland. He eventually gave way to a combination of Derek Fisher, Ronnie Brewer, and Gordan Giricek, and returned to relative exile in the D-League, this time with the Idaho Stampede.
As the 06-07 season ended with the Jazz bowing out in the Western Conference Finals, to the eventual champion Spurs, CJ entered the offseason with his future uncertain. His guaranteed rookie contract was up, though there was an option for a third year, and the Jazz tendered him the minimum qualifying offer, so they could match any free agent deal he was offered. For whatever reason -- whether due to the advice of his agent, or fear at being injured and losing market value, or displeasure at Sloan and the team, or because he considered it beneath him -- CJ chose not to play in the 2007 Rocky Mountain Revue. This did not sit well with coach Sloan, who immediately called CJ's desire to improve into question. No free-agency suitors came calling, and CJ accepted the Jazz's minimum qualifying offer: he would remain a Jazzman for the 2007-08 season.
With Derek Fisher's departure, it seemed the 2-guard spot was again up for grabs. The team had drafted yet another guard in Rice's Morris Almond, but he was almost immediately sent to the newly-formed Utah Flash in Orem. It quickly became apparent that CJ was sitting third in a three-man group of shooting guards including Brewer and Giricek, as Brewer won the starting job. As the season progressed, Gira fell into further disfavor, culminating in a memorable blow-up at Sloan and a flight home from a Jazz road trip. Suddenly the bench minutes were there for CJ, and he immediately impressed with timely 3-point shooting and energy.
Things were looking up for CJ until the Jazz traded Giricek for notorious marksman Kyle Korver. The minutes vanished, and CJ returned to the bench and his usual inconsistent ways, impressing and disappointing in alternating proportions. He was the tenth man in a nine-man rotation, relegated to garbage time on a contending team.
This offseason, with an apparent glut including Brewer, Almond, Kirilenko, Harpring and Korver at the swingman spots, CJ has again chosen not to play in the Rocky Mountain Revue. As the summer league is usually for rookies, sophomores and un-contracted players, this might not be surprising. But CJ and the Jazz have been through this before: Miles is again a restricted free agent, the Jazz have again tendered him a minimum qualifying offer, and he seems to be attracting little attention around the league (a brief flirtation from Detroit notwithstanding). He may return, he may not. But he's still no better than third on the depth chart at either shooting guard or small forward, and may have just burned his final bridge with Jerry Sloan.
So what happened? It's hard to say. There's no denying CJ's talent. His body looks like nothing so much as a very young Michael Jordan: thin, long-armed and lanky, with huge hops and a sweet shooting form. He can handle the ball, makes good back-door cuts, and finishes well in the air. His outside shooting, when he's set, can be deadly. And at times his defense is energetic and effective.
I think the key to CJ's development, or lack thereof, is mentality. Put simply, CJ lacks confidence. Though he may look like Jordan in body, he has nothing of Jordan's predatory instinct or will to win. He entered the league at such a young age, and has such a pleasant disposition (one look at that boyish grin and those jug ears would tell you that), that somehow he never learned how to focus, to be consistent, to apply what he learned when the team really needed him. Maybe that's something he would have learned as a key member of a top-level Texas team in college. Maybe it's just not in his makeup. Maybe he has let Jerry Sloan get to him too much, too often, and therefore thinks he's going to be pulled from any game at any moment. (He wouldn't be the first youngster that Jerry had crushed -- DeShawn Stevenson and Kirk Snyder leap to mind). It could be all of those things put together.
Can he turn it around? Sure. I hope he does. I love CJ, and I think he has a lot of talent to offer the Jazz. He might come out next season and excel, snatch minutes away from Korver and Harpring and Brewer, and fulfill his potential. (If it means fewer minutes for Harpring, I sincerely hope it happens.) There's really no limit to how great a basketball player Calvin Andre Miles, Jr., can be.
But the bottom line is that Calvin Andre Miles, Jr., while a great person and tremendous athlete, is not a great NBA basketball player right now, and needs every chance he can get to develop. Those chances might not come as a member of the Utah Jazz. And if not here, then where?