TAYLORSVILLE — Versatility and promise were cited by the Jazz on Friday as reasons behind their decision to match the multiyear offer sheet that Oklahoma City tendered last week to restricted free agent swingman C.J. Miles.

"His first year in the league, physically and mentally he wasn't ready to play," Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said of Miles, who was selected in the second round of the 2005 NBA Draft as an 18-year-old straight out of Skyline High School in Dallas. "But last year he showed improvement — especially after the beginning of the year."

Miles averaged a career-high 5.0 points over 60 games last season, including 13 starts.

"I feel like, and particularly (head coach) Jerry (Sloan) felt like, he came to camp last year and really wasn't in great shape. But, during the year, we felt like he really turned into a pro," Jazz assistant coach Phil Johnson added. "The last half of the year, he worked very, very hard. He matured a lot, and he really became a man. And we feel like he has great potential.

"Sometimes things happen when you grow up," Johnson added. "So, hopefully he'll keep improving."

The deal is four years, though the fourth year of the contract is a team option.

It's valued at slightly less than $15 million over the full four seasons, which is about $800,000-plus less than has been reported the past few days.

Utah's decision brings its count of players under contract for next season to the NBA maximum allowable 15, but does not adversely impact its room under the league's team payroll luxury tax threshold.

It could, however, in 2009.

Not that O'Connor seemed overly concerned about that Friday, when the Jazz beat their deadline to match.

"Who knows what will happen in '09-10?" the Jazz GM asked. "We consider him a good player, and we didn't want to let him go."

The Jazz especially like the fact that Miles can be plugged in at either shooting guard or small forward, especially with the potential for injury among starters Ronnie Brewer and Andrei Kirilenko and backups Kyle Korver and Matt Harpring.

Teammates — especially point guard Deron Williams — wanted him back.

"Deron and the guys were happy for me, that we can stay together," Miles said.

The Jazz also like the insurance he provides should Korver exercise his early termination option next offseason.

Moreover, they may not have been particularly swayed by the Rocky Mountain Revue NBA summer league play of rookie shooting guard Morris Almond to trust that the 2007 first-round draft choice is ready yet to absorb Miles' 11.5 minutes per game from last season.

Mostly, though, they just want to see the 22-year-old lefty reach his full potential for them rather than another team.

"You project out," O'Connor said, "and we consider him part of the future."

"We've had three years with the guy, and I think everybody felt like he had made improvement," Sloan added. "We have a lot invested in him and will see where he is — just like anybody else ... I'm happy he came back."

As much as he might have been excited about the possibility of making the move to the former Seattle Sonics team in Oklahoma City, Miles tried to express the same sentiment Friday.

"I was prepared for either way, just in case. At the end of the day, I mean, it's still a business," he said via conference call. "The team is gonna make the best decision for what they think is the best for their team. I was just hoping I was a part of the decision to move on with the (Jazz) as far as the future, so I'm happy with the decision."

Miles — who upset Sloan with his agent-driven decision not play in last year's Revue, and subsequent physical conditioning when he reported to fall camp — spoke with the Jazz coach shortly after being informed of the Jazz's plans.

"They're not gonna promise me I'm gonna play just because I signed the contract," he said. "That's not been discussed. What's been discussed is if I come in and work and show that I should play, then I will play. And that's what I plan to do.

"The game is what I love to play," Miles added, "and that's what I want to prove — that I can play."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com