Can This Possibly Be Legal?

Take a look at this story reported at espn.com 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.

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  1. chappy says:

    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.

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  2. Joe Smith says:

    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.

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  3. Neil (SM) says:

    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.

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  4. Matt says:

    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.

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  5. Chris says:

    Chappy,

    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.

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  6. MRB says:

    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.

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  7. Gabriel says:

    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.

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  8. Mike says:

    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.

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