Hey Trailblazers’ fans, remember this pic? Darius and his wife at the signing conference? The travesty that is “medically unfit to play” and the Curious Case of the Disappearing Salary? Well the strange saga that began on April 14, 2008, is all about to end, the final chapter hopefully written within the next two Grizzlies’ games. Darius Miles, once a top NBA prospect, has been the center of recent controversy, and with his salary about to land back on the Trailblazers salary cap, Blazers’ president, Larry Miller, thought it would be a good idea to send a letter to the other 29 teams in the League threatening legal action. It was a pathetic attempt to try and assert that the Blazers had any legal ground to stand on in making this threat, which only served to question why they had been granted this exemption in the first place. Here is Darius’ take on it:
“They made a decision on the career-ending injury, they made it for the organization, but I felt they didn’t have my best interests at heart. I don’t have to prove anything, because I always knew I had the skills to play at this level. But it did make me hungry and fired up. I really wanted to go to a great situation, if I did get another chance.”
(Courtesy of Boston.com) And Miles got another Chance early this year, after two years with no on-court action, with the Boston Celtics. But after playing in six preseason games, with 14 guys already holding guaranteed contracts, and with only one spot left for either him or Sam Cassell, well, we all know how that ended. (Which, considering that Sam Cassell has yet to play this year, and the Celtics bench is weak, one has to question.) After that, there were rumors that the Clippers were interested, and why wouldn’t they be? (Incidentally, could Miles be any worse than the guys riding their pine?) That never happened, though. Nor did any other team take a chance on Miles. Don’t forget, there was also a 10 game suspension hanging over Miles’ head for a violation of the League’s substance abuse policy even if he made a roster. Honestly, by this time, most teams already had full rosters. So Miles’ dreams of returning to the NBA appeared over.
Until the Grizzlies rolled the dice. In December, they gave this 27-year-old, who hadn’t played in a regular season game since April 15, 2006 a chance. After two more games, Yahoo leaked that the preseason games that Miles had played were significant. Miles playing in 10 games proved that we was not medically unfit, and so his salary in 2008-09 and 2009-10, which were already guaranteed, would go back on the Blazers salary cap. The Blazers had previously asserted this meant 10 regular season games, and no one had bothered to check the actual rules, until Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the preseason games had counted against the 10-game count.
And let me tell you people, with Miles salary back on the cap, the Blazers’ outlook is not pretty. Already at $70,060,316 in team salary (just under the luxury tax of $71.15 million), that figure would balloon to $79,060,316, meaning that the Blazers will be paying $15 mil in luxury tax if they don’t slash salaries (dollar for dollar double the amount over the luxury tax threshold). Yet the Grizzlies cut him after he appeared in two games. TNT’s David Aldridge said both Celtics and Grizzlies sources had told him, however, that Miles “didn’t have any physical limitations brought on by the microfracture surgery he underwent on his right knee in 2006.” Speculation was that the Grizzlies had only cut him because they didn’t want to guarantee his contract all year, that they were hedging their bet on Miles.
With Miles only needing to play 2 more games to put his salary back on the Trailblazers cap, and terrified that the initial travesty (getting Miles off their cap space) would come back to bite them in the ass, the Blazers threatened the other 29 teams with a lawsuit if they signed Miles just to screw them under the cap (the full letter can be found here), alleging two causes of action: (1) breach of fiduciary duty to a joint venturers; and (2) tortious interference with their contractual relationships. One Western Conference GM said, “They’re daring someone to sign him now.” Maybe. But I think the Blazers’ lawyers are just stupid.
Here’s how it works in Oregon, where Trailblazer contracts are likely interpreted:
“To prevail on [a] claim for intentional interference with contract or prospective advantage, [a plaintiff] would have to establish each of the following elements: (1) the existence of a [contract], (2) intentional interference with that [contract], (3) by a third party, (4) accomplished through improper means or for an improper purpose, (5) a causal effect between the interference and damage to the economic relationship, and (6) damages.”
(As stated in the case, Leif’s Auto Collision Ctrs., LLC v. Am. Family Ins. Group, Inc., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 78811 (D. Or. Oct. 22, 2007).) So, obviously, there was a contract (1), which would be affected by a third party if another team signed and played Miles (3), which would, of course, damage the Blazers under the luxury tax implications (6). But what the Blazers would never be able to prove are elements 2, 4, or 5, without any one of which they cannot make their case. First, to prove “intent” to damage another team (2), rather than simply hiring a capable player is the inverse of trying to prove an at-will employee was fired for an illegal purpose: short of the alleged offender coming out and admit it, it’s almost impossible. As for “improper means” (4)? Under Oregon law, any “legitimate business purpose” will satisfy this requirements. Miles is 6’9″, 235 lbs., and had so much potential he jumped to the NBA straight from high school. What more would you need to say. Oh, and just for the nail in the coffin, the causal relationship (5), I’ll let one Eastern Conference exec close it:
“The point that everybody is missing is that this isn’t about Portland’s salary cap. It’s about whether [Miles] is healthy enough to play or not. He obviously is healthy enough to play. It doesn’t matter how good he plays. He can still play, and they said he couldn’t. Portland received benefits when [Miles’] injury was ruled career-ending. If he can play, they don’t deserve to have those benefits.”
(Courtesy again of Yahoo.) That’s the bottom line. The Blazers have tried to argue they deserve something that they never deserved. So it has taken Miles three years to get back to playing shape. So be it. But you have to question why the Blazers couldn’t get him into playing shape, when other teams with little incentive could. Miles himself said: “It was a long two years. I felt I could have played last year, but that wasn’t in the [Blazers’] plans. It was real frustrating.” Pretty sheisty if you ask me, could it be his association with the old “Jailblazer” team? I don’t know. But the team exposed a dark side of the business, and they got burnt. Guess what, in the NBA most contracts are guaranteed, that is a fact of life. So why should one team get out from under the salary cap implications of serious injuries to high-priced players when other teams don’t? They shouldn’t.
As for the Trailblazers’ assertions of violations of Fiduciary Duties by a team signing Miles? Equally stupid. Especially as to joint venturers, who have lesser duties than corporate officers or other business partners actually working together to a common goal. But the joint venturers in the NBA are all working together to work against each other. Follow me? Yeah, they all want to make money, but they each want to step all over the other 29 teams to get there. What duty did the Jazz have not to steal Boozer away from the Cavs? None. It’s every team for itself. The only way they could really be harming each other’s fiduciary duties is by supporting other basketball leagues over the NBA. Besides, on this matter, Oregon law is going to take into account the “Business Judgment Rule Defense,” which provides that:
It is a presumption that in making a business decision [the person] acted on an informed basis, in good faith and in the honest belief that the action taken was in the best interests of the [business]. Thus, [such] decisions will be respected by courts unless the [persons] are interested or lack independence relative to the decision, do not act in good faith, act in a manner that cannot be attributed to a rational business purpose or reach their decision by a grossly negligent process that includes the failure to consider all material facts reasonably available.
(As stated in the case, HLHZ Invs., LLC v. Plaid Pantries, Inc., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 78817 (D. Or. Oct. 23, 2007) (emphasis added).) Guess what, a good lawyer would argue that pushing the Blazers over the luxury tax is a rational business purpose within the competitive NBA joint venture. Or maybe finding equity in the Blazers being denied an award they clearly didn’t deserve (getting Miles off their cap), and equalizing their rights as compared to the other 29 joint venturers is a rational business purpose. Or also that whole 6’9″, 235 lbs., high school phenom thing. Please. Blazers, prepare yourself for the return hit.
The Blazers empty threats didn’t work. Miles is signing a 10-day contract with the Grizzlies today.
From a legal perspective, it’s fortunate for Trailblazers that the Grizzlies have re-signed Miles, because if no one did, he’d probably have a claim under unfair trade practices laws. As it is, no one is happy with their overhanded (and stupid) methods. First, the League made it clear that any “Any such contract [signing Miles] would be approved by the NBA.” Then, the Cavs’ owner called the Blazers, “Dead Wrong.” Further, players’ association director, Billy Hunter said: “We are shocked at the brazen attempt by the Portland Trail Blazers to try to prevent Darius Miles from continuing his NBA career.” Hunter added (as argued above) that the Blazers litigation threat was frivolous, and “a clear violation of the anti-collusion and other provisions of our Collective Bargaining Agreement.” SI.com also reports that the players union will file a grievance against the Blazers.
This is one basketball fan that will not cry when Miles’ $9 mil a year goes back on the Trailblazer cap for this year and next. I was incensed when they got this exemption. It seemed to get swept under the rug, too. Listen, I like the Blazers, I really do. This is nothing personal. But as quoted above, Miles is medically fit to play, so they don’t deserve the exemption. Plus, I’ve always liked Miles, and have always been disappointed that he never broke out. Always like the trademark head thump thing he and Q-Rich did as Clippers, too (which both have kept doing elsewhere). Why not? Plus, like I said before, I believe in giving guys second chances.
Make the most of yours, Darius.