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Before the Portland Trail Blazers resorted to a threatening email to frighten rival NBA teams from signing Darius Miles, team officials late last week made a brazen bid to claim the forward off waivers only to be stopped by the league, multiple front-office sources told Yahoo! Sports.
So determined to salvage the salary cap space that would come with the foiling of Miles' comeback from a devastating knee injury, Portland president Larry Miller and general manager Kevin Pritchard apparently were willing to stash Miles on the sideline and keep him away from other NBA teams.
In denying the Blazers' move to control Miles, NBA front-office sources say that league executives in New York denied the waiver claim because they believed the Blazers were merely trying to circumvent league salary cap rules.
Once the NBA rejected Portland's waiver claim, Miller sent an unprecedented threat of legal action for any team that signed Miles as a free agent. Several league executives were aware of the bid on Miles and reacted angrily over what they considered hypocrisy.
After playing two games for Memphis this month, the Grizzlies had waived Miles to avoid guaranteeing his contract for the rest of the season. Nevertheless, an undeterred Memphis promptly signed Miles, a 6-foot-9 forward, to a 10-day contract Saturday.
Portland wanted to prevent Miles from playing an additional two games that would've nullified the benefit of salary cap relief, the Blazers' main retirement-injury benefit. Miles' return to the Blazers' cap could cost Portland owner Paul Allen as much as $8 million in luxury tax payments to non-tax paying teams.
Once Miles plays 10 games this season, the $18 million left on his contract returns to the Blazers' books over the next two years and severely punctures Portland's opportunity to sign a star player to complement its good young core of players.
After Yahoo! Sports reported last week that Miles' six preseason games with the Boston Celtics counted toward the 10, Portland was frantic to derail a rush of teams who wanted to sign Miles and potentially damage the Blazers' free-agency plans. Miles has played eight games toward the total of 10, and could reach nine Tuesday night when Memphis plays Cleveland.
The NBA Players Association has already blasted the Blazers' email with Miles and promised to file a grievance with the league, and executive director Billy Hunter called Portland's email an "attempt to intimidate the other 29 teams" and a "clear violation of the anti-collusion" provision of the collective-bargaining agreement.
When reached Monday night, the agent for Miles, Jeff Wechsler, said, "Once again, all we're concerned with is Darius continuing his playing career. He's shown he can play and we just want to make sure he has the right to work."
The Blazers' email to rival team executives and owners late Thursday night threatened legal action to any franchise that signs Miles for the "purpose of adversely impacting the Portland Trail Blazers' salary cap and tax positions." The email cited Wednesday's Yahoo! Sports report that revealed Miles was just two games – not eight, as previously believed – from returning to Portland's cap.
"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," Miller wrote in the email to representatives of every NBA team.
"Such conduct by 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."
Miller told reporters in Portland on Friday that the team was not trying to block Miles' return to the NBA but sending a message to rivals who wanted to intentionally hurt their financial interests.
"We were hearing a lot of rumblings and rumors that there were teams out there planning to sign Darius Miles specifically and maliciously to hurt our organization," Miller said. "This was our way of responding to that and letting folks know that we were not going to take it sitting down."
Portland signed Miles to a $48 million contract in 2004, a move that Pritchard had regretted when he took over the franchise. After Miles suffered a micro-fracture injury to his right knee in 2006, missing seasons, doctors representing the Blazers and NBA agreed that the damage was too severe for Miles to return. Still, Miles had insisted that he would try to come back to the NBA if the knee ever healed, and that's exactly what happened.