Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Entering his sixth season, it'd be fair to describe C.J. Miles as being at a crossroads in his career.
For the moment, he's motoring through the intersection of Untapped Potential and Veteran Expectations.
But on the first day of a training camp that he hope precedes a breakout season, Miles took a quick detour along What Might Have Been Way.
Texas legend Rick Barnes was among the visiting coaches observing Jazz practice Tuesday. As y'all might recall, he would've been Miles coach in college had the swingman not leaped into the NBA out of his Dallas high school.
After watching the 2010 version of Miles, Barnes only wishes the sixth-year pro and 2005 Texas commit still had some college eligibility remaining as another player he once recruited, Deron Williams, jokingly told him was the case.
The comparison of comments that came out of Miles' current coach and the one he committed to play for as a teenager was an interesting paradox.
Barnes, the Miles fan, marveled at how much the 215-pound forward has developed and matured — both his body and game — since he began recruiting him as a sophomore in 2002.
"It's great watching him," he said. "He's totally changed his body and (was) just telling me how much he loved it here and how much he believed in the system and what they're doing."
The Texas coach joked with Miles, a skinny teen when he recruited him, about his more-muscular physique, telling him, "I'd probably have to make you a power forward."
Jerry Sloan, on the other hand, spoke with a more critical still-hoping-to-get-the-message-through tone about Miles. The Jazz coach wants to see him play better defense, pass better and for him to tap out his "ton of talent."
"He should be better," Sloan said, "(and) do all those things you'd expect a guy to do with experience. ...
"His whole process has got to get better," Sloan added, "the whole process of being a better player."
Barnes attended Jazz practice to learn from a coaching staff and time-tested system that he admires, even if — perhaps partly because — Miles can be the recipient of some tough love.
Barnes loves that Miles ended up with Sloan — and Miles loves that, too.
"You look back, it was probably a blessing in disguise that he came here," Barnes said. "Because I know this ... they were patient with him. They stuck with him, too. He said that, that they had really stuck with him and helped him grow, so he's happy."
Miles' focus coming into this season was to regain the fitness he had last year before injuring his thumb — a surgery-requiring mishap that happened in England during a preseason practice and derailed his big-year hopes.
Miles spent much of the summer in New York, again lifting weights and working out with NFL star and friend, Ray Rice. He also camped out in the basketball gym.
"That was a big thing was try to get as strong as I could over the summer, but not too big where I lost athleticism," Miles said. "Then as far as my game, (it) was just being in the gym, getting as many shots as possible, and then try to add certain things to your game and strengthen things that you're not as good at."
In particular, Miles worked on skills like attacking the basket and his off-the-dribble and in-between game. He doesn't want his offensive repertoire to be limited to dunks and 3-pointers.
"I'm just trying to add some go-to moves for my game," he said, adding that he wants to do anything "to help my team as much as possible."
Barnes was excited to hear Miles tell him about the expansion of his skill set as the two chatted after practice.
"He liked that 3-point line," Barnes said. "Now they've got him doing some other things. He was acutally just telling me how much he loves coming off the screens and curling it up and going in, (and) as he's got stronger trying to go to the free-throw line."
Like Sloan, Williams believes that Miles can help himself and the Jazz by improving on the other end, too. The All-Star even enlisted a defensive expert who recently rejoined the team to mentor for his Texas pal.
Miles, meet Raja Bell, your new defensive tutor.
"Deron was asking me this morning if I would help him with his defense," Bell said. "He was saying he got better in the playoffs."
But, as Sloan suggested, Miles still has room for improvement on that end.
The Jazz would certainly benefit if Miles takes off from where he was offensively during the postseason last spring, too. Finally healthy and fit, Miles averaged 14.4 points, 2.8 assists and 2.5 rebounds while starting for both of Utah's series.
"I would see no reason for him to want to go backwards," Sloan quipped.
Miles has struggled wildly with inconsistency in his first five NBA seasons, but Williams offered a more optimistic outlook on the 23-year-old. He's hopeful the playoffs were a launching pad for Miles.
"I think he's ready to do that again," Williams said. "He's getting older, he's getting more mature. He's learning how to take care of himself better, and it shows."
Miles is certainly no longer the kid Bell remembers rattling as a rookie in 2005-06, the season after he left the Jazz. Miles improved so much Bell said he "couldn't contain him" when they faced each other two years ago.
"He'd developed a nice little offensive arsenal. He was obviously athletic and flying all over the gym," Bell said. "I think he's developed into a really nice wing player in the league."
Ditto, says Barnes, who can't help but think what might've been had Miles ever played with talented Longhorns Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson and P.J. Tucker.
"I tell everybody we would've won it. We might have won a couple of them ...
"But," Barnes added, "it's worked out for him."
Barnes laughed, wishfully thinking about getting a chance to coach the Jazz's two Dallas guys whom he formed a relationship with while recruiting. He'd find roster room for them.
"Their time's up," Barnes laughed, "but I'd like to get a waiver on both of them."
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