SANTA CRUZ (AP) — As the Santa Cruz Warriors huddled after practice, Darius Morris provided a quick recap of his adventure to the Arizona desert a day earlier to interview with the Suns. Phoenix needed a point guard given Devin Booker’s hamstring injury, and Morris was at least in the mix.
Santa Cruz coach Aaron Miles, who so wishes he were still playing professionally, had a little fun leading the offense in Morris’ absence.
Just one example of life in the topsy-turvy, changing-by-the-day G League, when Golden State or another club might come calling at a moment’s notice to swipe a top player for promotion to the NBA.
Or, as is the case for Santa Cruz this week, send one of the NBA’s best big men out on rehab assignment.
Miles will have the chance to work alongside DeMarcus Cousins, assigned to Santa Cruz on Monday as he continues his rehab from left Achilles tendon surgery. Cousins’ younger brother, Jaleel, is on the team, too.
One moment, Miles might be setting a screen or bouncing a pass into the post, the next he is pacing to the other end to check out his guards at work in a shooting drill, the practice plan rolled up in his left hand and chomping gum all the while.
“Move, you gotta move!”
“Good work, fellas, good work!”
Near the end of a session, Miles walks to the scorer’s table and starts a music playlist as individual shooting work begins. He is accustomed to constant change by now.
“You just kind of know more of what to expect, and you can expect the unexpected here,” he said. “I have pretty much the same staff so we’re all kind of comfortable in understanding how the G League works, how each other work. ... The G League isn’t just for players to grow, it’s an opportunity for coaches and everybody in it to grow. So we understand we aren’t going to do everything perfectly.”
Santa Cruz’s fast start drew praise from Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
The two-time defending champions’ feeder team began 8-0 in the second season under Miles, who is thrilled to be part of Golden State’s staff during the run to a third title in four years.
“He still has that fire,” forward Kevin Young said. “It’s good for him to be able to show these guys how to go to the basket and what made him successful as a player, what can help the team and what he’s looking for as well.”
The Warriors clubs have made a point to build continuity, even running the same plays to ensure a seamless transition for two-way players making the 70-mile trek from the Bay Area to the tourist beach town along the California coast.
The father of four boys, Miles strives to keep things family oriented with his players, emphasizing that they should enjoy the journey and each step, not try to rush to the next level.
“You want that to result in an NBA spot, however in the meantime you get back, you focus and get lost again in our team goals and our team aspirations,” Morris said. “Even me just going (to Phoenix) and coming back kind of influenced everybody to just buy in even more to what coach is talking about. It proves — he had players last year, Quinn Cook, Damian Jones — it makes it easier to be able to listen to him and just trust the process, trust what he’s talking about.”
After one shootaround, Miles had just begun to ponder his minutes breakdown for a game that night when he got word Damion Lee was headed out to join the big Warriors.
Jones, who began as Golden State’s starting center before recently tearing his pectoral muscle, developed his game in Santa Cruz last season. Same with Cook, who emerged to fill a huge void during Stephen Curry’s injury absence late last season and again this past month.
“You can see the impact that our Santa Cruz affiliate has had on us over the last couple years,” Kerr said. “We feel really, really good about what Aaron Miles and his staff are doing there and the affiliation and the continuity. It helps so much that we run the exact same stuff. We bring Damian up and all of the sudden he’s playing 20 minutes a game and every call he knows because they’re running the same stuff down there. That makes a huge difference, difference between winning and losing a game, really.”
The 35-year-old Miles is a former Kansas point guard who played one NBA season for Golden State in 2005-06 and has 19 career games to his name.
Sure, he wants to still be in uniform — “100 percent” — and, sure, he might want to reach an NBA bench one day. But Miles applies the same patient approach he uses with his players to his own career path.
“He’s been in a similar predicament as us,” Morris notes.
There is constant communication between the two Warriors franchises, and Luke Loucks is a two-way coach who aids in keeping Miles and Kerr connected.
Miles understands how special this time is working for the NBA’s elite coaches and franchise and so appreciates the chance to talk to Kerr or top assistant Mike Brown, who “always give me some good insight and good advice.”
“It’s amazing. I always said, ‘I’m blessed,’” Miles said. “I had the opportunity to play for Roy Williams, play for Bill Self, coach under coach Self with coach (Joe) Dooley, and now have the opportunity to coach under, in a sense, Steve Kerr and be a part of this family and organization. I’m extremely blessed and honored. It’s great. I don’t know a better situation to be in.”