There's been a lot of hand-wringing going on since Darius Miles played his first game for the Memphis Grizzlies Sunday night. The angst surrounding the Darius Watch is almost palpable.
Quick question: Why?
Even if it goes the worst possible direction the Darius Miles situation is a disaster for the Blazers like Pabst Blue Ribbon is a full-bodied beer...like a velvet Elvis is chic décor...like Screech and John Bobbitt are top-notch porn stars.
Of course it would be better for the Blazers overall if Darius didn't play 10 games this year. But even if he plays those games (and that's a big "if"), his salary returning to the cap won't stop the Blazers from doing anything truly vital in their master plan.
Let's go over the situation again.
1. Memphis or somebody else has to sign him in order to make this work.
The Grizzlies have until tomorrow (edit: or Saturday, whichever...it's SOON) to guarantee Miles' contract for the rest of the year. Right now he's on a non-guaranteed deal which gives them no further obligation to him. As it stands he's not signed past this week. If they don't think he can play they're not going to keep him.
Sunday's earth-shaking outing consisted of Miles playing 2 minutes and registering zero marks in the stat line. None. This isn't confidence-inspiring material. By all accounts he was moving slowly. That's not something you want out of an athletic small forward. The situation isn't looking great for Darius.
If Miles is released he could be signed to 10-day contracts still. No team can sign him to more than two consecutive 10-days without paying his salary for the rest of the year, just as the Grizzlies would have to do if they kept him. In order for those consecutive 10-days to hurt Portland not only would Darius have to be signed to them, he'd have to actually play. 9 games in 20 days doesn't sound like much but unless he's signed during a brutal part of the schedule that's playing in pretty much every game for the entire 20-day stretch. This for a guy brand-new to the team.
Neither the Grizzlies scenario nor the 10-day scenario are impossible, but there's no reason to speculate either will happen until one or the other actually does.
2. The Blazers aren't fatally crippled even if Miles' salary goes back on the cap.
As a quick look at Storyteller's fine site will tell you, the Blazers don't just have the potential to be under the cap next year, they have the potential to be WAAAYYYY under the cap.
The players the Blazers are committed to contractually--Roy, Aldridge, Oden, Przybilla, Webster, Bayless, Fernandez, Batum, and Rodriguez--total around $32.3 million in salary next year. If the salary cap stays relatively even (most of the time it goes up, but we'll be conservative) it will be around $59 million. Even tacking on $1.5 million or so for a first-round pick leaves the Blazers the option to be $25 million below the salary cap. Again, this is a conservative estimate.
Some of that $25 million undoubtedly will be used to retain players we already have. Here are the costs:
Steve Blake-- $4 million
Travis Outlaw-- $3.6 million
Channing Frye-- $12.9 million cap hold until he re-signs, then whatever he signs for (likely $4.3 million)
Ike Diogu-- $12 million cap hold until he re-signs, then whatever he signs for (likely $3.9 million)
You can treat that list like the appetizer menu. If you want a Blake to go with your main course you can certainly afford him. You can afford a Blake and Outlaw or a Blake and Frye too and still have plenty left in your budget. Obviously the Blazers are not going to let those cap holds last for long. They'll either re-sign the players in question, trade them, or cut them.
The point is, the Blazers could look at retaining a couple of those players and still have $18 million to play with.
Darius Miles' salary for 2009-10 is $9 million. Yes, that cuts the cap room in half. But that doesn't prevent the Blazers from pursuing any option they desire.
If the Blazers wanted to spend $16-18 million on one guy, which is the scenario the Miles contract would make most difficult, you have got to figure that they're banking on that guy being a superstar. Without the Miles contract on the cap you could sign that superstar free and easy. With the Miles contract you have to make a simple decision: is that superstar worth cutting a couple of your other players like Blake and Outlaw? If you're spending that kind of money the answer had better be yes. In that case, problem solved. The resolution will be more painful than it would have otherwise been but Miles wouldn't have stopped the move.
The superstar signing scenario is among the least likely possibilities, however. Unless the Blazers are thinking about Allen Iverson (gack!) there just aren't that many of them available on the free agent market this summer. If Portland wants a big-name, big-salary player they're probably going to have to trade for him. In that case the Miles contract won't hurt much. Almost no team in the league is going to dump a legitimate talent for $18 million in cap space alone. They're going to want players in return. Those players' salaries are going to add up to enough that $9 million in cap space is just about as good as $18 million. $9 million will bridge just about any trade gap you can name. You might have to throw in one more player to make the numbers work, but if you're getting Your Guy that's not going to hurt much.
If you're not talking superstars at all, but just good players, then $9 million with raises is going to be enough to sign anyone you want. There's a little-talked-about truism about NBA salaries I'll share with you. Once off of their rookie scales superstars make $14 million and up. Good role players make $9 million and below. You know who falls in that $9-13 million range? Overpaid B+ players. There are a couple exceptions, but for the most part it's true. You don't want those guys and you don't want to be paying those guys their expensive tweener salaries. If you're not looking at $15 million, $8-9 will more than do.
Obviously this is even more so if you're talking about trading for players making $9 million or less instead of signing them outright. Miles won't hurt those prospects at all. Kevin Pritchard can indulge every kid-in-the-candy-store fantasy he ever had with that much money available.
3. The Blazers still have Raef LaFrentz's contract
Portland will know soon if the Grizzlies are keeping Miles. It should be painfully obvious by next month's trade deadline whether he's capable of playing enough 2-minute shifts to get reinstated on our cap. With Raef LaFrentz's $12.7 million expiring contract available the Blazers don't have to wait until this summer for $9 million in wiggle room to make trades. They have 141% of that figure available right now, Miles or no Miles.
Keep in mind too, whether it's $12.7 million for the next six weeks or $9 million this summer that space pairs beautifully with the young, incredibly cheap players we have to trade with. Now or later it's a powerful combination. This is the avenue Portland is most likely to take advantage of and it's the avenue least affected by the Miles situation.
4. The Blazers have a plan.
Until this year nobody knew that Darius Miles would accept medical retirement. Up until the minute he signed the papers the Blazers were planning on getting the job done with his contract still counting against them. I remember thinking when the news was announced, "This is really, really fortunate for us." But championships are not built on fortune alone. The retirement was a nice bonus, not the cornerstone of Portland's future. If Kevin Pritchard and company didn't have a plan for this exact situation I'll eat my old Rasheed Wallace jersey unsalted. If nothing else they just have to return to their old pre-retirement plan. Don't tell me the next six months weren't circled on their calendars long before Miles left.
Add it all up and this 10- (now 9-) game countdown is an inconvenience, nothing more. Portland fans don't have to sweat it. Even if the worst happens all the options available before Miles' salary returns will still be available after. At worst we'll have to take an extra step to execute them. Those steps have never been an issue for our decision-makers.