SALT LAKE CITY — For seven seasons, C.J. Miles was a youthful free spirit as a member of the Utah Jazz, a 6-foot-6 swingman for whom the franchise held such high hopes for and one whom Jazz fans readily embraced.
He was such a likable, ever-exuberant guy with a big, broad smile, a player who continually tantalized fans with his promising talent and tortured them with his erratic, unpredictable performances.
Tonight, Miles will again take the floor at EnergySolutions Arena. But, for the first time in his eight-year NBA career, he'll do so as the "enemy" — a member of the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers.
Miles was a guy the Jazz thought so much of that they drafted him out of high school back in 2005, making him at age 18 the youngest Jazzman in franchise history. The Jazz valued him enough that, in 2008, Utah matched a four-year, $14.8 million offer sheet that Miles, then a restricted free agent, had signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder, thus keeping him in Utah.
He's a guy who once poured in 40 points in a 2011 game against Minnesota. He was also the guy who inspired this classic quote from former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who grew weary of Miles' on again, off again outings: "We can't put diapers on him one night and a jockstrap the next night."
Then last May at locker-cleanout day, following Utah's four-game playoff sweep at the hands of San Antonio, Miles — who missed the latter part of the season with a calf injury and did not play at all in Utah's postseason series — complained openly to the media. He wasn't sure what his role here was any more and cited what he considered a severe lack of communication from the Jazz coaching staff.
Sure enough, when Miles' contract with the Jazz expired at the end of last season, the C.J.-Jazz marriage was officially over. The divorce became final when he became a free agent and subsequently signed with the Cavs in August.
But while the love affair didn't last, Utah's coaches and players still have fond memories and plenty of respect for Miles, that fun-loving young man who spent his formative NBA years with the Jazz organization.
"When we drafted him, he was an 18-year-old young fella when he came here," Utah head coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We learned a lot from him. I thought he had a great seven years here with us, just getting better.
"I thought he was good for the community, and he's a really nice guy. He worked hard to get better every year, and we wish him well. He's not one of our guys any more, but he'll always be a part of the Jazz family."
Earlier this month, Utah faced another former Jazz player, point guard Devin Harris, who was traded away to Atlanta during the offseason. Harris came back to haunt the Jazz in their meeting last week, scoring a season-high 24 points in the Hawks' come-from-behind victory.
Corbin said that's typical of all athletes — they always want to do well against their former team. The Jazz coach certainly knows, having spent time with nine different NBA teams during his own playing days.
"That's anybody," he said. "When you go back to play (against) the team that you played for you want to show that you deserved to stay or they made a mistake or whatever that is. You just get energized for that game and sometimes you press too much, but usually you have a lot of energy to perform.
"Yeah, I've done it a few times," Corbin laughed. "You want to show that you can play, first of all, and that if anybody made a mistake, it wasn't you that made a mistake, it was that they made a mistake not letting me be here anymore. A trade happened because a trade happened, but you want to put your best foot forward.
"And the team that you're on now try and support you," he said, "and if you're going good they want to give you a little more nudge and a few more touches to really score. That's what it it all amounts to against your old team. The other team looks at it as practice, because you competed against those guys every day in practice so they know your capabilities and they want to take those things away from you."
Miles, a high school All-American out of Dallas, had some decent seasons in Utah. He averaged 9-plus points a game in each of his last four years here, including a career-best 12.8 points per game in 2010-11.
Miles has played in 34 games this season for Cleveland (10-31), starting 12 times. He's averaging 11.2 points and 2.7 rebounds a game, and in his last 22 games he's averaged 14.1 ppg and is shooting a slick 42.4 percent from 3-point range and 90.2 percent from the foul line. Over that 22-game span, Miles has scored in double figures 17 times.
One of his best friends with the Jazz was veteran forward Paul Millsap, who still keeps in touch with Miles and is looking forward to seeing him — and playing against him — tonight.
"C.J. is one of my good friends, man," Millsap said. "Seven years we've been together, and it was good to see him do well right now. We talk a lot, talk about different situations. He talks about how different Cleveland is from here, and it's a big change. So I'm always willing to hear that and see what's going on out there.
"He's enjoying it (in Cleveland). You can tell he's more relaxed on the court. He's showing that he's more confident out there. "You never know what to expect from him," Millsap said of Miles' sense of humor. "C.J. is a kid at heart, and we used to play a lot of video games together. I enjoyed our time (as teammates)."
Third-year swingman Gordon Hayward showed he could do the job at both shooting guard and small forward for the Jazz, thus essentially making Miles expendable.
Hayward's looking forward to tonight's match-up.
"It's always fun when you have guys that were teammates and then you're able to play against them and compete against them," Hayward said. "A lot of us follow him and check up and see how he's doing, so it'll be fun.
"I was only here for a couple of years of (his career), but he gave a lot and every time he was out there he played hard, and that's all you can ask from a player."
Miles got off to a slow start with the Cavaliers, but he has certainly had his moments and turned in some stellar performances last month. He had back-to-back 28-point games Dec. 11-12 against the Lakers and Pacers, respectively, and in a late-December game, Miles poured in 33 points thanks to some superb 8-of-10 shooting from the 3-point line — all of that while coming off the bench.
His last four games have been a microcosm of his career — good one night, not so good the next — as he had 11 points on Jan. 11, 5 points (on 1-of-9 shooting, including 0-of-5 from the arc) last Sunday, 17 points on Monday and 8 points on Wednesday.
Yes, everyone calls him C.J., but in spite of his best efforts, "erratic" could still be his middle name.
Miles is pleased that he's found a new home in Cleveland, where he seems to understand his role and has flourished recently after a sluggish beginning with the Cavaliers.
"I never doubted that I was in the right place because I was getting opportunities," Miles said in a recent article by Jodie Valade in the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper. "Which is what you want as a player — the opportunity to do the things you do well.
"I just didn't capitalize on it. I knew it was about me working and working to get back into a rhythm, so when I got a chance, again just to be ready to grab that thing by the horns."
Miles worked hard to regain his shooting touch, and that's when things — and this season — started to turn around for him.
Cavaliers coach Byron Scott is pleased to see Miles regain his confidence.3 comments on this story
"He gets a chance to be in an offense where he's moving and not standing," Scott told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "He gets a chance to handle the ball more, to be a little bit more creative in a motion-type offense. And I think that serves him well.
"He is one of our best guys in terms of set-ups and coming off screens. Besides Kyrie (Irving), nobody cuts as hard as he does. I think that's helped him, once he really started getting the understanding of what he needed to do offensively.
"And it's started to come, he's not thinking," Scott said. "He just reacts right now to the defense, and had some big games for us."
Corbin & Co. are just hoping Miles doesn't decide to have one of those tonight against his former team.