Portland and the Dangers of Bravado

The Darius Miles Saga has taken a very interesting turn over the past couple of days. 

If you are not sure what I am talking about here is a quick recap.  While playing for the Portland Trail Blazers Darius Miles hurt his knee and the injury was determined to be career ending.  As a result Portland was able to remove his contract from their cap.  Miles has since worked his way back and the Collective Bargaining Agreement stipulates that if a player can play in 10 games his medical retirement is revoked and his contract goes back on the books. 

Portland is currently in position to have a large amount of cap space this summer, but if Miles’ $9 million contract goes back on their books it will most likely cut their cap space in half.

It seemed like there was little to no chance of Miles seeing time in the required 10 games due to the fact that he has only played in two regular season games and was just waived by the Memphis Grizzlies.  It seemed that there was no way he would play in ten games this season.

However, yesterday came a revelation.  Adrain Wojnarowski with Yahoo! Sports reported that the league is counting the six preseason games Miles played with Boston towards his ten game limit.  As a result he has played in eight games instead of two and any team interested in putting his salary back on Portland’s books need only sign him to a ten game contract, play him in two games and waive him. 

You can imagine that several teams would be interested in making sure the up and coming Blazers do not have the cash to sign a max free agent, or two upper level free agents this summer.  Portland knows that this is an option and as a result they have released the following memo to every team in the league.

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.

I have two questions.  First of all, on what grounds do the Blazers think they have any legal case against a team signing any player?  I see no reason why a team interested in Miles should not sign him.  He has already been signed by the Celtics and Grizzlies.  Why should another team not bring him in to see what he can do?  Especially now that they can bring him in on a ten day contract with no strings attached?  It is only logical that someone would bring him on board to see what he can do.  After all, we are talking about a player who once dropped 47 points on the Nuggets in one game.  Teams should be interested in seeing what he can do firsthand.

The second question, and to me the big issue, is if any team is subject to legal litigation is now Portland.  The memo they sent out is infringing on Miles ability to earn a living.  If no team signs him, he has a great case that the league has committed collusion against him and the reason for that is the letter Portland has sent to the other teams.  To avoid such a legal situation I believe that the NBA now needs to have a team sign Miles. 

Portland may have had enjoyed flexing their muscles, but they may have done the one thing that will ensure Miles will get his last two games in.  

Update:  Henry Abbott at TrueHoop has a great post on the Miles issue and he points out that the memo only threatens action against a team who signs Miles “for the purposes of hurting Portland.”  That is an important distinction.  If the Nuggets or Jazz sign Miles to a ten day contract, play him in two games for two minutes each game and then waives him, I can see how Portland would have a been with them.  

Blazer’s Edge also addresses the memo and looks deeper at the legal issues.