Can This Possibly Be Legal?

Take a look at this story reported at about the Portland Trail Blazers and Darius Miles.

The Trail Blazers declared Miles medically unfit to play and released him. If he had played two more games with the team, his $18 million salary over the next two years would count against the Trail Blazers for the salary cap and they would have to pay a luxury tax.

It turns out that if Miles plays two more games with any team, the Trail Blazers will have to pay the luxury tax. So they sent word around to the other teams saying that if they sign Miles “for the purpose of adversely impacting the Portland Trail Blazers’ salary cap and tax positions,” the Trail Blazers will sue.

Can this possibly be legal? It sounds mighty anti-competitive to me — the sort of thing that violates anti-trust laws.

Certainly they can’t keep a team from signing Miles if they think he will contribute to the team. The only possible defense Portland could have is that the team knows that Miles is not healthy, but signs him and puts him into the game just to hurt the Trail Blazers. Absent smoking-gun evidence like emails stating the motivation for signing Miles was solely to hurt the Trail Blazers, how in the world could Portland win such a case?

It might be a different story if Miles played basketball like me, but this is a player who, before a knee injury, was the #3 overall draft choice and made the N.B.A. all-rookie team in 2001. Also, if the Celtics saw fit to sign Miles in the pre-season this year, it likely had something to do with my former student Mike Zarren saying Miles was underrated. Given the Celtics’ success lately, building a team off their rejects might not be such a bad idea.


I also have to think the union must be furious. It seems like the Portland GMs letter alone is a smoking gun as a tactic for colluding with other teams.

I also wonder if Portland is trying to save even more money with this tactic. Don't teams frequently take out insurance on their player contracts? I suspect they might be getting some sort of insurance payout if he stays medically ineligible.

Joe Smith

The problem with the letter is that it leads to a cross examination of a representative of the Blazers that goes like this (this is a summary, a lawyer would spend more time setting the trap):
1. You released Miles in advance because you were convinced that he was and would remain medically unfit to play.
2. You sent the letter to the other teams threatening to sue if they played Miles.
3. How could another team play Miles if he was medically unfit?

The real point of the letter is that it shows they had no real confidence that Miles was medically unfit and the release was probably a sham.

Neil (SM)

Honestly, if I owned a team (and Miles was actually able to help my team in some way) I wouldn't hesitate to sign him and tell Portland to go ahead and sue if they wanted. I doubt they have a case, even if the only reason I signed him was to hurt them.


To get the facts more right:
Going into the season, it was understood that if Miles played 10 games for any team, his medically voided contract would go back onto the Blazers books.

He has played 2 regular season games to this point. To get into 8 more, some team would need to take the risk of signing him for the remainder of the season. He latest team, the Grizzlies, chose not to, after his 10 day contract expired.

It then came out that the 6 pre-season games he played for the Celtics counted towards the 10, meaning the Blazers were suddenly only 2 games from the threshold. Needing only 2 games means that some team could easily float Miles a low-cost 10 day contract.

Also, Miles is clearly healthy at this point. Whether he remains athletic enough to warrant an NBA contract is up for debate, but his playing time to this point clearly demonstrates that he is on the level of a professional basketball player, meaning at least on par with those in the D-League and international leagues.




Note that the letter is from Blazers president Larry Miller not general Manager Kevin Prichard. Prichard is thought of as a God around Portland and there is discussion here in town that this might have been done without Prichard's knowledge.


It should be noted that Miles' stint in Boston ended with the Celtics concluding that he wasn't physically ready to contribute; his stint with the Grizzlies lasted an entirety of 9 minutes.
There has been anonymous talk credited to other league GM's they they would "play" Miles strictly to damage Portland's financial situation - the implication is that they are putting Miles on the court with the knowledge that he is not truly physically capable of playing NBA-level basketball.

I suspected that Portland would proactively contact the league about making sure the spirit of the medical retirement rule was upheld; namely that the Blazers would reacquire the Miles contract only if he were able to actually come back and play, not simply stand on the court for :45 seconds a night.


Not only I think that the Blazers don't have a case against a team giving a contract to Miles, but I think Miles has a case against the Blazers.

They say he is not healthy enough to play, when 8 games so far prove them wrong, and they threat other teams with litigation if they hire him. I would sue a former employer who tries to deny me the opportunity of working with someone else.


My feeling on this is that Portland cut Miles because he's a cancer, and declaring him medically unfit was a ploy to try and get the cap space and avoid the luxury tax. They probably thought no team would want anything to do with him after he was released. I don't see how they have any legs to stand on.


The reasoning behind the email from Portland is so teams do not circumvent the spirit of the rule.

As several people have pointed out, if Miles were to play in 2 more games, Portland would be on the books for $12 million for 2 years. Even if Miles played for a grand total of 2 seconds in two games, this would cause the contract to be reinstated.

Another consideration is the fact Portland will have to pay a luxury tax if Miles comes back onto their books. The tax money collected by the league is evenly distributed to non-tax paying teams.

So the benefit to a team is two fold. Not only do you damage the financial status of an opponent, but, if your team is under the tax level, will receive a payout for your efforts!


Darius Miles was declared medically unfit by an impartial doctor. The NBA gave the Blazers the okay to release him. The fact that he continues on and proved that doctor wrong doesn't mean that the Blazers should be punished for shoddy work by the NBA.


The Blazer's did not declare him medically unfit to play, it was done by a doctor selected by the Player's Association, as per the Collective Bargaining Agreement. What the letter does is effectively scare away a team who would pick him up just to get a part of the $9 million that Miles' contract guarantees that would put the Blazers over the salary cap, which would have to be given to the rest of the teams in the league (~$300,000). The threat of litigation makes it so that a team that would sign him against the intent of the rule, would easily spend more than $300,000 just discussing the case with their lawyers, thereby helping everyone else in the league (by giving them the $300,000, while having to spend their $300K in discussions with lawyers). Anybody who would have a desire for Miles to be on their team, for legitimate (within the intent of the rule) reasons, would not have to worry about this, because the Blazer's would have absolutely no case against them, and those reasons would likely be apparent and so would not have to worry at all about paying the money for discussing it with their lawyers. This email ingeniously and effectively separates the owner's in to two categories, and makes them reconsider signing Miles just to get paid, without the Blazers having to go to court, and only spending enough effort to send out an email.



The problem is that a NBA doctor is the person who said he has a career ending injury. Although I think the Blazers sound like crybabies with this warning, I think any team that signs Miles is only doing it to hurt Portland and I think its not only cheap but there may be some right for legal action.


I seem to recall from my Industrial Organization classes in college that anti-trust laws specifically exempt sports leagues.


Teams, in the US and abroad, routinely determine the "fit-ness" of a player to play depending on whether they want the player to remain on the roster or not. Players who have minor injuries are kept for months while those with a broken finger or sprained ankle are cut. Players that are causing problems mysteriously have an injury. Players are told they have an injury. Welcome to the world of professional sports. If I were another team, I'd sign him to a 10 day contract to replace an "injured" (ha ha) player and then play him forcing Portland to spend even more money in an attempt to sue the team. If I were Miles, I'd use the players union to my advantage and also file suit against Portland.


My question is whether he *really* is unfit to play, or whether they've exaggerated his injury to release him before having to pay big bucks for going over the salary cap.


There are many caveats to this story that are not explained by the original post and has little to do with whether or not a player is "undervalued." I will try and inform you thusly on the long, strange trip of Darius Miles.

Miles' first gained notoriety as a headlining member of the "Jailblazers" from earlier this decade, complete with strip club romps, racial slurs aimed at his coach, a lackadaisical approach to practice, and openly telling the media that he didn't care about winning.

Miles' injury happened in the 05-06 season and required microfracture surgery. He did not play a single game in the last 2 seasons. He was released last season after exploratory surgery by an independent doctor commisioned by the NBA deemed his injury career ending. So the fact that he returned to play came as a huge shock to many Portlanders.

The truth about his "career-ending injury" as understood by most people who have been following the story is that it had as much (or more so) to do with his lack of commitment to rehab and conditioning. Put simply, after the injury, Miles' went from lazy, which quite a few naturally-blessed pro athletes can get away with, to fat and lazy.
Always rail-thin in his earlier days, he had noticeably bulked up by at least 30 lbs in a bad way, and his game, being of the high-flying above-the-rim type, would never be the same.

Now, as any knowledgable fan can tell you, NBA teams have rosters that are 13-15 people, with deep teams using 10 or 11 players over the course of a competetive game. In his current condition, Miles is no better then the 10th man on any teams roster and would not be playing an integral role on any team he plays for. The only time he would get playing time is during "empty-the-bench" situations (ie blowouts) Thus it is very hard for anybody to believe that a team that signs Miles honestly believes he will give them good or better production then a comparable D-League player that could be had for the same price. But at the same time it is essentially impossible short of incredible stupidity (leaked memo or some such proving ulterior motive) for Portland to prove that a team is signing him in order to kill their cap space, making the whole league-wide email warning fiasco pointless and dumb.

The real question that most people should take away from this is why are guarenteed contracts counting against a teams' cap space when the contracted player is playing for another team? Doesn't that seem phenomenally dumb? And then bang your head on the table as you realize that , regardless of whether or not he continues to play, Darius Miles will be paid $19 million by the Portland Trailblazers for doing absolutely nothing. Ah, capitalism!


Bobby G

Steve @ #13 is correct. It doesn't mean Portland will necessarily be able to sue and win, but the letter itself is not illegal.

Nadav Zohar

I don't think what the Blazers are doing is any more anti-competitive than the existence of a salary cap or a luxury tax!


I guess you could say the real impact this email may have is calling out publicly any team that may have been considering (Denver, Memphis) signing Darius for the purpose of hurting the Blazers. It certainly has gotten a great deal of media attention. A question is whether or not the publicity of such a move is now enough of a deterrent. I would say not.

Kathy A.

I'm not familiar with basketball, but in baseball players need to pass a physical when they change teams. (This happens so often that i believe it's mandatory). If Miles passes a physical, what basis would Portland have to sue?