Darius Miles was a high school prodigy.
One of the most sought after young NBA prospects of all-time, Miles will be remembered as a promising player whose career was cut short by a countless number of off the court issues and a catastrophic knee injury.
Fresh out of East St. Louis High School, the 6'9" Miles came into the league with a Kevin Durant-type of frame, and a chip on his shoulder.
Blessed with a long wingspan and the ability to score the basketball with relative ease, it was clear on draft day that Darius Miles would be a great fit for any NBA franchise willing to take a chance on him.
Watching Miles play, and play hard, during his high school days is still some of the most entertaining basketball you'll ever witness.
The 6'9'' slashing forward was an all-around thoroughbred scorer and savage shot blocker.
In the weeks leading up to the 2000 NBA Draft, Miles was dubbed an athletic freak that was incredibly explosive off the dribble. He was the type of kid who could run up and down the court for days and wear down veteran defenders with his aggressive style of play and his infatuation for attacking the hoop.
With an underdeveloped jump shot and a lack of understanding for how the pro game flowed, most NBA scouts realized Miles was a project pick who in the right system with great coaching could develop into a true NBA superstar.
On draft day, Darius Miles sat and waited to be picked. When the best college player in the country Kenyon Martin was selected first overall by the New Jersey Nets and the dynamic Stromile Swift was taken right behind him by the Vancouver Grizzlies, it became apparent that Darius Miles name would be called next.
By selecting Miles with the third overall pick it was clear the Los Angeles Clippers were attempting to finally turn the corner by building a young, energetic team.
Pairing Miles up with their other first round pick in the '00 draft Quentin Richardson, and the prior year's top choice Lamar Odom, the Clippers front office were executing their plan to perfection by loading up their roster with speed and power.
And that roster was deep. Having guys like Elton Brand, Keyon Dooling, Corey Maggette, Lamar Odom and Quentin Richardson on the payroll during his tenure in LA provided Darius Miles with the opportunity to grow as a player and refine his game without shouldering a ton of pressure.
The Clippers were young, dynamic and incredibly exciting to watch. As a kid, I can remember being infatuated with the team because of their fast pace and high-flying ability. With Darius Miles on the roster, the LA Clippers were one of the coolest teams in the NBA.
But even as an inexperienced, impressionable fan, you have to realize the NBA is a business. And no matter how "cool" a franchise may seem on paper, the ultimate goal is winning.
That's why two seasons after drafting him, the Clippers abruptly decided to trade Miles to the Cleveland Cavaliers in hopes of securing a point guard to help reign in their young team.
At the time, then Clippers' Vice President of Operations Elgin Baylor was quoted saying "The one thing that makes this both easier and exciting in a situation like this when you are getting a proven player in return (Andre Miller) who has established himself as one of the top five point guards in the NBA."
(During his last season in LA, Miles averaged 9.5 points and 5.5 rebounds a game.)
Sending Miles to Cleveland in exchange for Andre Miller was considered to be a bold and exciting move for the Cavaliers franchise.
After acquiring Miles, then Cavs' General Manager Jim Paxson said, "Darius Miles was the player we coveted in this deal. Sometimes you have to make bold moves to get better in the future."
When Miles arrived in Cleveland he immediately became part of another rebuilding project.
With a veteran leader like Andre Miller gone, the Cavs' centered their offense around Miles and a young charismatic rookie named Dajuan Wagner. (Sadly, thanks to a ton of injuries, Dajuan Wagner's promising NBA career fell flat.)
That first season the team was a disaster (they went 17-65 in 2002-03) and Darius played a huge role in their downfall. His inconsistent play and poor attitude made the Cavs' trade of Andre Miller look like a huge mistake.
But as bad as the Cavs and Miles played that season it turned out pretty good when it came to the team's future. Because without Darius Miles there would be no LeBron James in Cleveland.
When the Cavs' won the NBA lottery and selected LeBron James to be the savior of their franchise, you knew right away Darius Miles' role within the organization was living on borrowed time.
Even though Miles and James were said to be close friends, the Cavs' front office wanted to rid the team of Miles. Being a recurring house guest in head coach Paul Silas' doghouse and his lack of production (Miles' averaged 9 PPG in Cleveland) on the court pretty much sealed the fate of D-Miles in Cleveland.
What was once looked at as a promising young career was quickly descending into the land of NBA misfit toys. A true scorer with so much potential at his fingertips was wasting away, bouncing from team to team.
When the Blazers took a chance on Darius Miles they were hoping that a fresh start and a change of scenery would be all this 22-year-old former lottery pick needed to finally realize his true potential.
Linking Miles up with Zach Randolph, Portland attempted to build their team around these two young players.
And for a brief moment in time, the Blazers' and their fan base saw the true potential of Darius Miles.
Miles was smooth, aggressive and soared up and down the floor with grace and style. He scored points, he rebounded and in the process, he made Portland fans' giddy watching his game.
The questions started pouring in. Did the Blazers steal an all-star from Cleveland? Was Darius Miles finally breaking out and becoming the player everyone said he would be?
After finishing the 2003-04 season on a high note, the Trail Blazers front office made a decision. They decided to shell out some serious money and ink Miles to a six-year, $48 million dollar deal.
A deal that they hoped would keep the tandem of Miles and Randolph playing in the Rose Garden for the foreseeable future.
But then, almost on cue, the bottom dropped out.
While Miles' stats didn't suffer the season after he signed his big deal in Portland (Miles' averaged a career best 14.0 PPG), his play clearly did. Miles appeared lazy, uninterested and would only try when he felt like trying.
Some nights he would barely show up and others he would put on a show (like when he dropped a career-high 47 points and tore down 12 rebounds against the Denver Nuggets).
What was going on? From racial rants against head coach Maurice Cheeks to his lack of consistency, Darius Miles' plunge into the abyss from the season before was almost too much to swallow.
And just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, Miles suffered a devastating knee injury, which by all accounts ended his once promising NBA career.
In the spring of 2006, Miles underwent micro-fracture knee surgery that would require him to miss the entire 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons.
Although he returned briefly to play for the Boston Celtics in the pre-season and for the Memphis Grizzlies (circa 2008-09) for a time in the regular season, Darius Miles' career was over.
Gone was the magic of his high school days blocking shots and throwing down earth shattering dunks. Gone were the days of the high-flying, headband pounding Los Angeles Clipper. Gone was his chance to play with a potential superstar in Dajuan Wagner and one of the game's elite players in LeBron James.
Gone was that one glimmer of hope we got to see in Portland.
Now, all that we have left to remember Darius Miles by is one word. "Potential." The hollow, spellbinding term that captivates millions of sports addicts each and every season.
To sum up his NBA tenure, Darius Miles was a troubled young man blessed with an incredible physical prowess. He was a player whose basketball career could have been something special.
Sadly sometimes that's just how it goes in sports. You can have all the tools physically but if you can't get your life together off the court, your time in the limelight will be short lived.
A Darius Miles' Extra-Scoop: After Darius Miles medically "retired" and left the Trail Blazers in 2008, the team was granted salary cap relief due to his injury.
Under NBA rules, if a player is deemed to have a career-ending injury and returns the following season to play in at least 10 games, than the salary relief is lifted and the contract is re-added to the former team's cap.
After seeing Miles play for the Celtics in the pre-season, the Trail Blazers threatened to sue any other NBA team if they tried to sign Miles.
The NBA responded by saying they would file a grievance against the Trail Blazers and told the other franchises that they could in fact sign Miles to a deal.
Once Miles signed with Memphis and reached the 10-game minimum, the remaining $18 million dollars on Darius Miles' contract was re-added to the Blazers cap, crushing their hopes at landing any big name free agents.