Friday, January 9, 2009
Union vows to hit Blazers with grievance
ESPN.com news services
NEW YORK -- The NBA players' association plans to file a grievance against the Portland Trail Blazers, who have threatened litigation against any NBA club considering signing Darius Miles.
The former Trail Blazers forward is attempting a comeback -- a potentially very expensive one for the Blazers -- from major knee surgery.
If Miles plays in two more games this season, Portland would be on the hook for $18 million -- the amount remaining on Miles' contract, which would count against Portland's salary cap and force the team to pay luxury tax.
"We are shocked at the brazen attempt by the Portland Trail Blazers to try to prevent Darius Miles from continuing his NBA career," players' association director Billy Hunter said in a statement.
"Their attempt to intimidate the other 29 NBA teams by threatening frivolous litigation merely for signing this capable NBA veteran is a clear violation of the anti-collusion and other provisions of our Collective Bargaining Agreement. We will vigorously defend Darius' rights."
Portland team president Larry Miller defended his aggressive action Friday,
saying rival teams are mulling signing Miles because it would hurt the Blazers in the wallet.
"Our issue is if a team is trying to do something malicious to
hurt us financially," Miller said Friday on a conference call.
Hours before Miles cleared waivers Friday, Miller sent an e-mail to the other 29 NBA teams warning of legal action if a team were to take Miles simply to adversely impact Portland's salary cap.
"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," Miller's e-mail reads, according to SI.com and Yahoo.com, which obtained it. "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."
"Our purpose here was not in any way to keep Darius from being
able to play," Miller said. "If he can come back and help a team
to win and play at a level on the court that helps the team, we
have no problem with that at all.
The matter was added to Friday's agenda at a previously scheduled meeting between NBA and players' union attorneys.
In a memo sent to its 30 teams Friday that announced Miles had cleared waivers, the league office acknowledged it received the e-mail Portland distributed.
The NBA in its statement also seemed to indicate that it would support any club wishing to sign the veteran forward.
Numerous league executives contacted by ESPN.com suggested Friday that a line in the memo -- which confirms that "teams are free to sign Darius Miles to a Uniform Player Contract" and that "any such contract would be approved by the NBA" -- is the first of its kind in a league-issued waiver notice.
Although the Blazers have exposed themselves to censure from the league office for the tone of their note to fellow teams regarding Miles -- as well as the hostile reaction from the players' union -- one team did express some sympathy for their position Friday.
"It's a lot of money," Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told ESPN.com on Friday, referring to millions in future salary-cap space that the Blazers could lose if Miles' contract is restored to Portland's payroll.
"For that much, I would be sending e-mails, too."
But that was not the reaction from Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who, according to Yahoo! Sports, responded to Miller in an e-mail circulated to all 30 teams questioning whether "legal threats through a mass e-mail" are the best way for the Blazers to respond to the potential cap implications of Miles signing with another team.
Gilbert wrote: "I fully understand the frustration you and your team's ownership must be feeling in regards to this situation, but a preemptive threat of 'litigation' directed at all of your partners through a group e-mail does not sit well with me and seems to be incongruent with the spirit of keeping a 'fiduciary duty' and good 'partner-like duty' to your 'NBA joint venturers.'"
League sources told ESPN.com that the Phoenix Suns' Robert Sarver is the only other owner so far who has continued the leaguewide e-mail discussion. Following up Gilbert's note with a brief question directed at the Blazers, Sarver wrote, "Are you saying we're not allowed to sign him?"
Though he did not offer any explanation of exactly how the
Blazers would prove that another team signed Miles with the sole
intention of impacting Portland's bottom line, Miller said the team
would "cross that bridge if and when we come to it."
Teams had believed the collective bargaining agreement said Miles must play 10 regular-season or postseason games in a season for the $18 million to count against the Blazers. But six preseason games Miles played for the Boston Celtics counted toward the 10.
Before the Memphis Grizzlies waived him on Tuesday night to avoid guaranteeing his contract for the rest of the season, Miles served a 10-game drug-related suspension and then played two regular-season games, pushing his total games played to eight.
Had they not waived him, Miles' contract with Memphis would have become guaranteed for the remainder of the season. It was not clear whether the Grizzlies had planned to re-sign Miles to a 10-day contract after he cleared waivers.
"Darius Miles is focused on one thing -- that's returning to play basketball. That's it. He's not focusing on any of those other issues," said agent Jeff Wechsler, who was on the phone Friday morning with union attorneys trying to devise a strategy to confront what many around the league were describing as an unprecedented situation.
Miles, the third overall pick by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2000 NBA draft, was on the Blazers' roster from 2004 to '08. He signed a six-year, $48 million deal with the team in September 2004.
In 414 career games, he has averaged 10.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.15 blocks.
Information from ESPN.com senior NBA writers Marc Stein and Chris Sheridan, and The Associated Press, was used in this report.