It didn't take long after the Toronto Raptors introduced newly signed CJ Miles for a reporter to ask him about his expectations for the upcoming season. After pointing out that Miles had played the role of starter and reserve in previous situations, the reporter asked Miles which role he would prefer playing in Toronto. Miles response, without hesitation, revealed a glimpse into who the sharpshooter is away from the floor, and why the team was so elated to sign him.
“I feel comfortable winning,” Miles said with a smile. “Whatever they ask me to do, whatever’s going to be the best situation for our team that helps our team go, that’s what I’m going to be.”
Anyone tuning in for Toronto’s seven-game first-round series against the Indiana Pacers in 2016 knows what Miles can do on the floor. A 6-foot-6 guard-forward that can stretch the floor is a necessity in today’s NBA. Getting a shooter that can also defend — and play — multiple positions will space the floor and open things for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. More than what he can do on the court though, Miles fits in perfectly with the identity and culture the Raptors organization has been building over the past few years.
Golden State Warriors associate head coach Mike Brown coached Miles in Cleveland. While he had plenty to say about how Miles’ shooting will help whatever team he is suiting up for, what stood out most about coaching him was a memory from the first meeting the two had as player and head coach. After taking the head coaching position in Cleveland, Brown wanted to meet with each player on the roster individually to get a feel for who they are as people. Trying to arrange flights and visits with an entire basketball roster in the offseason is a logistical nightmare. Miles offered simple solution.
“When I was trying to set something up with CJ, he was like, ‘You know Coach, I know you’re trying to hit every guy, if you want, I’ll just come meet you at the airport.’” Brown said. “I was like, ‘Really?’ He said, ’Yeah, I’ll come meet you at the airport, we’ll chop it up at the airport, this way you can spend an hour or so, whatever it is between connections with me and then you can just keep on going to whoever you need to go.’ Think about it. How many NBA guys are going to go to the airport, not just go to the airport, but drive there, park their car, walk to the terminal, sit there and wait for me to get off the plane, then chat it up for a little bit then let me get back on my connection and see me off?
“He’s just a great guy. Toronto obviously got a very good basketball player. Not only a very good basketball player, but a type of basketball player that’ll help benefit the entire team. That will help make your superstars lives a lot easier, but you also got a great human being as well. That’s why this guy has a chance to be in the league for a long, long time.”
Brown’s admiration of Miles is mutual. Despite just a single season together in 2013-14, Brown’s impact on Miles’ game has been everlasting.
“I think one of the first people that said something about [me becoming an elite 3-point shooter] was Mike Brown when I was in Cleveland,” Miles said. “One day we sat down and he said for as well as you can shoot it, I feel like you don’t shoot enough and that’s from a three-point standpoint. That’s from the game and even the way you work on your game. You’re always in the gym but I don’t’ see you really honing in and working on that with it being such a weapon that you have. I accepted that challenge and I’ve taken pride in it over time and I’ve been able to use to my advantage, obviously, and my team’s advantage.”
Today, Miles is a known threat beyond the arc. He shot 41 percent from three for the Pacers in the 2016-17 season. That year with Brown helped him to get comfortable stretching his range and shooting more often from deep. Brown is now coaching in Golden State, where he has a front row seat on the sidelines to how important the 3-point shot has become in today’s NBA.
“The emphasis now, with the game being played at a faster pace, with the points being scored by every team, you need space on the floor,” Brown said. “When CJ is on the floor, for whoever he’s playing with, whether he has the ball in his hands or not, he has to be guarded. It’s going to make DeRozan, Lowry, those guys jobs, that much easier. Even the big guy down low, if he’s got a post up advantage, people have to think twice of double teaming. Not only do they think twice of double teaming, they have to think who are we going to come off, how are we going to rotate out of it and then there’s always that threat if they pass it out that you have more than a capable three-point shooter sitting out there waiting to knock that shot down.”
If Miles credits Brown with helping to expand his game and focus on long-range shooting, he credits former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan with teaching him how to be a professional.
“One of the biggest things was playing for Jerry Sloan,” Miles said. “That was the first coach I had in the NBA, and I tell people all of the time that was one of the reasons I’m able to still be there. He instilled that work ethic into the way I approach the game, that bring-your-lunchpail type of way, to make sure you do what you’re supposed to do to help your team and yourself be better.”
Miles came into the league as an 18-year-old rookie, drafted by the Utah Jazz in the final draft where players could enter straight out of high school. Though his playing time varied in his first few years in Utah — with Miles also doing stints with the team’s G-League affiliate, his experience with the Jazz helped shape his approach as a professional basketball player. Not only did he grow as a player with the Jazz, he grew up in Utah. After putting on a Jazz uniform for the first time at 18, he didn’t wear another jersey until he signed with the Cavaliers seven years later, at 25.
Ask around the league and the response is the same: great player, even greater person. When news of Miles’ signing with the Raptors was announced, Miles’ Twitter and Instagram accounts were flooded with messages of appreciation from Pacers fans. He is excited about a new challenge with his new team and his All-Star Raptors teammates are equally amped as well.
“I spoke to Kyle, Masai and DeMar and a bunch of a coaches within about an hour and a half of when it came official,” Miles said. “That was special to me to talk to them all and have them reach out to me how they felt about what they’re building, what they’re trying to do.”
It’s easy for a player to say they’ll do whatever is asked of them for the betterment of the team. It can be more difficult to follow through on those words when that ask is a challenging one, but that’s exactly what Miles did in Indiana during the 2015-16 season when he played the power forward position to allow teammate Paul George to continue playing at his small forward spot. Despite being undersized, he took the challenge every night — without complaint, giving his best effort, for the best of the team because that's what was asked of him. His unselfishness did not go unnoticed by Indiana’s coaching staff and front office.
Frank Vogel spoke to the Indy Star about Miles, calling his willingness to play out of position incredible. “He really is one of the best team-first guys in this group,” Vogel said. Larry Bird spent an offseason watching Miles workout in preparation for his new role. He came away impressed. “One night he’ll start; one night he won't," Bird said. "He’ll play a lot of minutes one game and maybe 15 or 20 the next. Being a piece of what we’re trying to do here, he’s been excellent. You can’t ask for any more.”
As Miles has matured from youngest player on the team to veteran player in the locker room, he has naturally taken on a leadership role through example. Though not necessarily the loudest, most demonstrative player on the floor, his approach and sacrifice sets an example for teammates.
“The biggest thing is that it doesn’t always have to be a show,” Miles said. “You don’t have to be rah, rah, yelling, people don’t have to see you swinging your arms or pointing, grabbing someone by the back of the jersey, whatever it may be. I think it’s just about the way you approach every day, the way you come in. Everybody has to be spoken to differently, but my biggest thing is the way I approach the game, the way I work at it, I want to be able to help my team. Unselfishness is always contagious, guys want to be part of that. Fun is contagious, guys want to win and the only way to do that is being unselfish, being able to do the right things for your basketball team.”
After witnessing Toronto’s fan support firsthand in the 2016 playoffs, Miles knew the Raptors were building something special in Canada. In addition to the vocal support from Raptors fans — both at home in Toronto and on the road in Indiana — Miles liked the support he saw within Toronto’s roster, from top to bottom. That camaraderie and support was attractive to him, but ultimately, what brought him to Toronto was a situation where he saw an opportunity to continue growing while also helping his team.
“Of the teams I spoke to, first of all, winning was humongous to me,” Miles said. “I wanted to be able to win. I wanted to be able to come to a situation where I felt like we were going to continue to win, continue to grow. That was the biggest thing. The culture, from talking to guys that have been here or been around it, coach [Casey], after I spoke to him, just from my own eyes. Seeing it with my own eyes, playing against them, competing and then coming in here and playing in this arena, the amount of energy, the way Jurassic Park outside the arena there’s nothing comparable to that at this moment and I thought that was really special to want to be a part of.”
Thanks to the combination of Miles' sharpshooting skills and willingness to putt the team first, Raptors fans are sure to appreciate the player wearing #0, on and off the floor this season.