MILES BUYS IN
C. J. MILES IS A GIFTED 3-POINT SHOOTER WHO CAN DRAW ATTENTION, BUT HIS MAIN CONCERN IS THE END RESULT, NOT WHO DOES THE MOST TO SECURE VICTORY
When C.J. Miles looks back on 2017, it will be as a lifechanging year that saw his world completely reshaped.
In a new country, alongside players he didn’t know, but has since grown a bond with and, most importantly, with his wife, Lauren, and a healthy, newborn baby girl, Ava.
Miles could have thought twice before accepting a three- year offer worth US$ 25 million back in July in a sign- and- trade deal to the Toronto Raptors from the Indiana Pacers.
After all, he and Lauren were well aware at the time that as he tried to adjust to his new team, a baby would be arriving in a foreign land, without much family support close by (both hail from Texas). He knew there would be other life-changing financial offers. They didn’t have to pick Toronto.
And maybe if Calvin Miles Jr. wasn’t raised by Calvin Sr., a preacher who would toss his son’s rap CDs out the window because he didn’t like the cursing, or didn’t get an early NBA education at the school of hard knocks by the all- business Jerry Sloan, he might have prioritized other things upon becoming a free agent.
But Miles, like those who influenced him the most along the way, prizes professionalism and takes his work extremely seriously. He credits the ultra- tough Sloan, who once famously said of the then teenager: “We can’t put diapers on him one night, and a jockstrap the next,” for instilling in him the knowledge he would need to last for well over a decade in the NBA.
“It was one of the greatest things for me as a young guy to play for some of that old school, strict, bring your lunch pail to work, teach you how to work, teach you how to learn … I think that’s one of the biggest reasons I’ve been here as long as I am, because I came in under him,” Miles says.
In the Raptors, Miles, who had only once advanced to a conference final, saw a rising force in the East.
“I’ve never made a decision on my career based off outside of basketball,” Miles explained before a recent pre-game shootaround.
“My first takes on any situation are will I be able to play well, will I fit there, what are they trying to do, are they trying to win? How is the organization? Other guys that played there, did they like it and that’s what I’m looking at. And it ( Toronto) checked off every box,” he said.
He also liked the perception that this was some sort of an underdog club, a sleeping giant, terminology team president Masai Ujiri has used in the past.
Miles made it clear how he felt about the perceived “disrespect” even back at training camp, saying that from the outside Toronto felt like “an elite team,” one that the media were inexplicably ignoring in season preview pieces.
“Second or third in the East ( in 2016-17) and now they don’t even say your name, like, how does that happen?” he said.
Outside shooting was always in the Miles tool box, but it has been a long journey to making it his most noted trait.
When he started out he was known as an athlete who could shoot a bit, but he didn’t fire up a ton of threepointers. About a third of his shots would come from beyond the arc.
Miles only hit 12 threes over his first two seasons, while still a teenager in Utah. The Dallas native had never before seen snow and says he got into an accident his second day driving there, sliding into a pole by his house.
He pushed it to 30 threes in Year 3, then doubled that. But by Year 7 in Utah, Miles dialed way back on his outside attempts as his jumper abandoned him and injuries impacted his game.
Miles was at a crucial intersection of his career. His contract was up. He was coming off of a dreadful season and had yet to find his NBA niche.
The Cleveland Cavaliers took a chance, handing out a small, two-year deal.
It was there that Miles evolved into a three- point specialist. Head coach Mike Brown encouraged Miles to go a step further in his final year with the Cavs, telling him to hone in on that specific skill while in the gym, to take advantage of his natural proficiency from beyond the arc.
Miles paid attention, taking every type of three-pointer you could imagine in his workouts from then on, and, as a model of consistency, would average 2.2 threepoint makes a game in each of his three seasons with the Pacers before the Raptors came calling.
And while it hasn’t been a seamless fit yet, Miles is averaging more three- point makes than ever ( in fewer minutes) and is hitting them at a solid clip.
“If he misses 20 in a row, we still want him to shoot the next 20 because we know what he can do,” all- star guard Kyle Lowry said recently.
At 30, Miles is the secondoldest player on the team, behind only Lowry. He plays predominantly with teammates in their early-20s on what has become one of the NBA’s premier second units. His role is to both stretch the floor for a group with some shooting issues, and to transfer the vast knowledge collected over the years to the kids.
“You want the youthful energy, but then you want that experience in there to kind of guide us a little bit, to keep an even keel, to be that rock when things aren’t going right,” says point guard Fred VanVleet.
Ahead of what everybody knew would be a pivotal 2017- 18 season due to enhanced expectations for the reserves and the talk of a cultural reshaping, a number of Raptors worked out together this summer in Los Angeles.
Miles made sure he was there.
“He was around this summer more than he probably had to be,” Van Vleet said.
“He didn’ t play much with us, but he came to a few dinners. He was around, we all gelled right away, it was like he was a part of the group. It didn’t take any time to force it, it was just natural.”
Just don’t call him “Bench Dad.” Miles isn’t a fan of that nickname, mostly because he doesn’t want to bring attention to himself or be singled out as bigger than anybody else. His main concern is always the end result, not who did the most to secure a victory.
Earlier in the season, VanVleet said he almost felt “guilty” when he spotted up for a wide open three, knowing Miles was being keyed on, based on his reputation.
For some reason, a high number of Raptors players hailing from Dallas or nearby have been among the most generous with their time, interesting and forthright with the media over the years. Chris Bosh, Quincy Acy, T. J. Ford, to name three, and now Miles.
“Must be that Southern hospitality,” Miles says with a laugh.
In turn, Miles and his family have been met with all kinds of northern hospitality.
“It’s different here, it’s a whole country ( backing the Raptors), it’s a massive following,” he says, smiling widely.
“It’s amazing to see just how amazing the people have been, how they’ve accepted myself, my wife, even Ava. People are asking about her in the drugstore. It’s not just like, ‘ Oh man, shoot some more threes.’ ”
Of course, as Lowry says, Miles has a permanent “ultra green light” to do just that.
C. J. Miles, who has only once advanced to a conference final, sees the Raptors as a rising force in the East.