Links: Don’t Tread On The NBA

by January 09, 2009

by Lang Whitaker

If there’s one thing we can be sure of regarding the Portland Trailblazers, it’s that their front office doesn’t want to play by the rules.

Yesterday, the Blazers’ front office sent out an email to every other front office in the NBA. By now the email is all over the internets:

Team Presidents and General Managers,

The Portland Trail Blazers are aware that certain teams may be contemplating signing Darius Miles to a contract for the purpose of adversely impacting the Portland Trail Blazers Salary Cap and tax positions. Such conduct from a team would violate its fiduciary duty as an NBA joint venturer. In addition, persons or entities involved in such conduct may be individually liable to the Portland Trail Blazers for tortuously interfering with the Portland Trail Blazers’ contract rights and perspective economic opportunities.

Please be aware that if a team engages in such conduct, the Portland Trail Blazers will take all necessary steps to safeguard its rights, including, without limitation, litigation.

(Wait, isn’t it “prospective” economic opportunities, not “perspective”? Either way.)

darius-milesHey, you know what other sort of conduct violates a team’s fiduciary duty as a joint NBA venturer? Trying to bully the other 29 teams in the League because you signed a guy to a bad contract.

Back in 2004, it turns out, the Blazers tried really hard to get Darius Miles. After the Blazers traded Jeff McInnis and Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje-Boumtje-Boumtje-Boumtje to Cleveland in order to get Miles, then-GM John Nash said they’d been negotiating a deal to get Miles for nearly a year. When his contract ran out, Portland signed him to a new deal worth $48 million over six years, even though he was a restricted free agent who hadn’t received any other offers.

D-Miles played well in spurts, putting up 47 points in a game once but also getting in an argument with coach Mo Cheeks and generally not being the best-behaved teammate in Portland. When the Blazers waived Miles in April of 2008, the organization openly admitted that getting rid of Miles provided relief to a franchise trying to turn the page on a history that had recently included too many malcontents and troublemakers. The Blazers evidently felt Miles belonged in that category:

“There is closure to the organization regarding Darius,” Pritchard said. “We’re putting this behind us, and putting closure on a tough situation.”

Miles suffered a knee injury in 2006, and by the end of 2006 he’d undergone the dreaded microfracture knee surgery. When he hadn’t returned by April of 2008, the Blazers had Miles checked out by a doctor who’d been OK’d by the L and the Player’s Association, and he said Miles’ knee injury qualified as “career-threatening.”

The Blazers waived Miles with the sole purpose of getting rid of him. They had to pay him the remainder of his contract, sure, but Paul Allen spends money like Michael Jackson used to. The good news was that Miles was gone. As The Oregonian story I linked to above mentions, “His release gives the Blazers a roster without any player who has been suspended or disciplined by the team or the NBA, the first time that has been the case in at least 15 years.”

And as an added bonus, that crazy contract the Blazers had blessed Miles with would be wiped from their books. Suddenly, not only did the Blazers have one of the best young teams in the NBA, they also had money under the salary cap to spend.

Then something really strange happened: Darius Miles started playing basketball again. By all accounts it was a long, tough road, one that Darius Miles had no financial reason to go down. He tried to come back, as he said, because he didn’t want to have “no regrets.” So he got healthy, rehabbed his knee and tried to return. That’s a great story, right? Guy suffers a knee injury that a doctor says is career-ending, yet through hard work and perseverance he’s able to do the impossible and make it back to the NBA. Good for him.

Not so fast. Portland, see, they thought they were done with Darius. But now that he’s two games away from having played the 10 games the NBA asked him to play to prove his career wasn’t over, Portland decided to be the bully in the room. “If you sign him to mess with us, you’ll regret it!” they threatened.

They signed the deal with Darius, and now that he’s able to play again, they don’t want him to have the opportunity. I know, their email said they didn’t want anyone inking Miles “for the purpose of adversely impacting the Portland Trail Blazers Salary Cap and tax positions.” So they could say they wouldn’t be mad if you signed Miles to play ball, only if you signed him to screw with them. Well, anyone who signs Miles is going to screw with them. That’s just the way it is. Darius Miles playing basketball in the NBA this season is inextricably tied to the Blazers cap money. And you know why? Because they signed Darius to the contract to begin with.

It’s kinda funny: People used to dislike the Blazers because they had a bunch of players who got in trouble all the time. Now people dislike the Blazers not because of their actual players, but because of the people in the front office who went out and got the nice players.

Go figure.