January 14, 2009
The Darius Miles saga could be over soon, in a way.
If the Grizzlies forward plays against the Jazz on Friday, we will see the NBA credit his former team's payroll with the agreed-upon contract terms that are now being shelled out to Darius by way of insurance checks.
His former team, the Portland Trail Blazers, will be on the hook for around $18 million for this season and next; and while the Paul Allen-led franchise doesn't mind adding to the bottom line if it brings in a winner, this does severely curtail the team's plans to have about $20 million in cap space this summer, and even more during the 2010 offseason.
So you can understand why the Trail Blazers, under GM Kevin Pritchard, having been trying dissuade teams from thinking that Miles could play NBA-level basketball after undergoing microfracture knee surgery in 2006. The Blazers declared him medically unfit to play a year ago, which meant that his salary (already covered by insurance) would come off the salary cap books if Miles couldn't play a certain number of games in the season directly following his release.
Miles was an underachieving talent who never appeared to really love the game, so it seemed like a match made in heaven when the divorce was finalized: Darius doesn't really have to rehab within an inch of his life, while still collecting checks, and the Blazers would be replete with cap space in order to add talent to its already-formidable roster.
But 2008 was an odd time for Miles to have the first attack of conscience in his career.
After barely being bothered to own up to his lackadaisical play and boorish locker room behavior in stops with the Clippers, Cavaliers, and Trail Blazers, Darius finally found basketball religion last year, and attempted a comeback with the Boston Celtics. The problem for Portland was and is that, should Darius play in 10 preseason or regular season games with an NBA team, the insurance claim is nullified in the NBA's eyes (if not the insurer's), and his contract counts against the salary cap.
Portland got to work, leaking word of a drug suspension that would co-incidentally cost him the first 10 games of his 2008-09 season, and though this probably wasn't the reason Boston released him after playing six preseason games, it didn't help. Memphis signed Darius to a non-guaranteed contract in December, just as Portland sent out word that it would attempt to take legal action if the team could prove another franchise was deliberately trying to mess with its salary cap structure. Of course, the Blazers couldn't ever prove this, but it was worth a shot.
In the meantime, Miles was released by the Grizzlies before his season-long contract became guaranteed, scooped up soon after on a 10-day deal, and now he's a game away from costing Portland a shot at reeling in a big fish this summer. This was after, Woj (who has been killing it; kindly bow down, people) reported, Portland tried to claim Miles on waivers in order to keep him off some other team's roster.
And, nearing the end, I'm having a hard time getting too upset over any of this.
If I'm honest, I don't like Portland losing all that cap space. I'm not a fan, but I do like seeing teams with flexibility, especially when it comes in the form of an expiring (in a way) deal belonging to a player who isn't with the team any more. An out of shape Miles has nothing to offer me as an NBA fan at this point, and there's nothing that can be gained by the average fan if Miles plays and every team racks up an extra $290k bonus this summer by way of Portland's luxury tax dole-out.
And, really, I'm hoping there's more to Memphis' machinations beyond just slightly making every other team happier, and grabbing a few hundred thousand of their own. They can't possibly want Miles, not with his current game, and certainly not with the absolute best of his skill set already prominently featured on the Grizzlies in the form of Rudy Gay and Hakim Warrick. You'd like to think that they could use Miles to do something to, you know, actually better their team.
There's the idea of the Grizzlies holding Miles' playing status over Portland's head as a sort of ransom, used to get some sort of compensation for the Trail Blazers, and nobody (not Trail Blazer fans, the team, the league, the Players Association) should have any issue with that in the slightest. It was brought up on Tuesday's Basketball Jones video podcast, it smacks of everyone getting what they want, and what's the problem with that?
Memphis is under the cap. Well under it. Portland could send, say, Travis Outlaw and Ike Diogu to the Grizzles for conditional second round draft picks, and it would be cap legal. And though Outlaw is a few days removed from dropping 33 points, and a fine player, wouldn't he be worth sacrificing in order to take on huge gobs of cap space? If I were Kevin Pritchard, and that was the price to pay, I wouldn't waste a second in making that happen.
The Players Association couldn't moan about it, because Miles would be getting paid (both in insurance money, and whatever minimum salary he would agree to over the rest of the year with Memphis), and if nothing is put in writing, nothing could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The Grizzlies would get a player or two that they could actually use (unlike Miles), and the Trail Blazers would get their cap space.
Still, this would mean everyone would be happy. So everyone's going to have a problem with that.
And adding free talent to his roster might not be Memphis owner Michael Heisley's top concern at this point. We've heard for years that every thousand bucks counts to this guy, even as he was doling out millions to Dick Versace and/or Chuck Daly. Perhaps, just as Portland is now paying the price for overpaying those who didn't deserve it with Miles, Heisley has to go through a little retroactive recouping of his own.
And we should come correct in talking about the Trail Blazers.
Should they have signed Miles in the first place? Were they pushing it by calling Darius unfit to play after he underwent a surgery that, while potentially devastating, has been successfully rehabilitated from time and time again? Were the drug leak and last week's emails pretty skeevy? Have they won many friends around the league with the way they've handled the Miles case?
No, yes, totally, teams hate them.
And their fans? This team's fans should love them.
The Trail Blazer brass is going way, way, way out of its way to better this team. They don't care how it looks, and they don't care how much money they have to spend, they want to develop a champion. And in a league full of cut corners and executives just looking to hang onto their jobs, this is refreshing, and (dare I say) admirable. This team wants to win.
And unless Memphis works this Miles situation to its advantage in basketball terms, you can't say that about the Grizzlies. They're the ones that will sell out for a few hundred thousand. They're the ones that are thinking about the bottom line 20 times before thinking about what happens on the court. And I don't want to hear any nonsense coming out of Tennessee about just how highly they regard Miles as a potential contributor, and how he's worth a look. Don't even start.
So hem and haw at the underhanded way Portland tried to work Darius' injury to their advantage. They saw an opportunity to make their team better, way better, and went for it. This is the sort of thing that Red Auerbach was all over for the first 30 years of this league, and people wrote books about him.
Could Pritchard have handled it better? Of course. But, for his team and the fan base that supports it, he took a chance. That's not something to get angry over.