Ohhhh...here we go.
As has been reported (and commented on near 1000 times, no exaggeration) in the sidebar an unnamed NBA team official has leaked a letter e-mailed to all NBA teams from the Portland Trail Blazers' Team President Larry Miller. Sports Illustrated had the story and now ESPN has picked it up. This is going to be all over the universe by morning.
For those who are curious, here is the full text of the letter as reported by ESPN:
"Team Presidents and General Managers,
"The Portland Trail Blazers are aware that certain teams may be contemplating signing Darius Miles to a contract for the purpose of adversely impacting the Portland Trail Blazers Salary Cap and tax positions. Such conduct from a team would violate its fiduciary duty as an NBA joint venturer. In addition, 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.
"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."
First of all I have to admit to you that when I read this--in fact when I read all Darius-related stories at this point--I just keep hearing the lilting strains of Chacarron Macarron go through my head as if the teachers from the Charlie Brown cartoons were speaking. Literally, I'm reading this stuff and that's what I'm processing. I'm not sure this was the effect that Mr. Miller was going for, so I apologize in advance.
Several questions have already come up in the discussion and via e-mail, so let's take our best stab at answers.
What the heck are the Blazers trying to accomplish?
I'm no team president, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night. I am guessing that this is a turf-defending measure, no more and no less. This doesn't strike me as a letter that's keying on effective prevention. The bluster is unmistakable, made more stark by the exclusive nature of the intended recipients. It's like standing up in church with a megaphone. Making the point is the goal, not necessarily winning people over. This feels like a letter from someone who knows the battle is lost and is trying to make contingency plans to recover or fight on another field. It reminds me of the video tapes that the Dunleavy-era Blazers sent to the league regarding the referees' favoritism towards Shaquille O'Neal. They weren't necessarily going to get things changed but they were going to be loud about what was going on.
A couple of people have suggested that the Blazers are laying the groundwork for a "bad faith" argument.
Law Student here... At one of my property lectures an intellectual property attorney introduced me to the concept of worst-case-scenario time travel. Imagine that someone has infringed upon your clients patent and you've not taken measures to protect him and you are in front of a jury. If you could go back in time, what would you have done differently so that you could tell it to the jury? Figure out what that is and do it now, beforehand.
The Blazers are setting up a "bad faith" argument. They are laying the foundation for a formal complaint. If this deters suitors for Miles, all the better. Also, since Miles was ruled unfit to play by an impartial doctor and he is still getting his money, it would be hard for him to push a case against PDX because the detriment to PDX would be unconscionable. He gets his 9mil, and Blazers are both penalized and unable to use his services when neither had reached any sort of buy-out agreement.
Darius will probably play, and PDX will probably appeal, and may use media articles to demonstrate that GM's knew of the detriment to PDX and played Darius Miles in bad faith to hurt PDX's capspace. That whole fiduciary duty thing holds quite a bit of weight, holds you to a higher standard of ethics. If it even smells like bad faith in a fiduciary relationship, it probably won't go well for the "bad-faith-er" (not a legal term, but it's more simple than "tortfeasor")
This will probably not be over for a while...
Mortimer offers a slightly different take:
This frightens off anyone who might have the bright idea of signing Miles to muck with the Blazers, or to make a few extra hundred thousand from the luxury tax payment they'd get from Portland being in luxury tax land. Do you, struggling owner of the Grizzlies, want to battle with PA's billions? Heck nah, phoo!
This is a strong arm tactic that makes sense from the Blazers perspective...The Blazers were obviously at least a little worried that another team would try to mess with us, so they made clear they wouldn't sit back and let it happen easily...
This is a weird situation with no precedent. I don't blame the Blazers for being aggressive, and you can probably assume our aggressiveness will pay off for us. The aggressive team gets the calls, after all.
Whether it's aggression, legal preparation, or just a need to shed a glaring light on the situation it's clear that the Blazers are not going to let this go quietly.
Does this mean that Miles was a bigger issue than we thought?
I don't believe this indicates that Miles or his contract are any more or less important than they ever were. Rather the Blazers find it necessary and responsible to defend their assets, or at least potential assets, no matter what those assets may be. If the league was monkeying with one of their prospective second-round picks we'd probably see the same kind of reaction. That doesn't necessarily mean the pick was critical to their plans. It's just not smart to let anything be taken from you in a way you perceive is unfair.
In the sidebar I compared this to a poker player defending his big blind. He ups the bet because he doesn't want people screwing with him. This doesn't mean that this particular hand is critical to the tournament. Even if he loses the pot he'll be just fine. The statement he's making to the table is the important thing.
This is wholly unprecedented! Is it a good idea?
First of all, we don't know that this is wholly unprecedented. All we know is that having it leaked is wholly unprecedented. There's an old saying in the medical profession that doctors talk to doctors. The fraternity of high-ranking NBA officials has always been the same way. We've always wanted to be a fly on the wall when they talk to each other. One of the fascinating things about this is that this is our chance.
If I had to guess I'd say that this was a rare, perhaps unique occurrence. Certainly this particular subject matter has never been broached before. But maybe all that's unique besides that is that we got a chance to peer inside their world.
As to whether it's a good idea...that would depend wholly on your knowledge of the fraternity and what you were trying to accomplish with them. Having none, I don't think we can say definitively. Somebody at Blazers HQ thought it was a good idea. Then again this crew, for all of their brilliance, is also inexperienced compared to the old guard. Our only recourse is to hope that this is a move of calculation and not just protest, of reason and not just heat. Failing that, we have to hope that the fallout, whatever that may be, will be minor. I think that's highly likely.
We do know one thing. During the Stern era the League Office has been as concerned with matters of decorum and efficiency as much as fairness or justice. Whatever your perception of fairness in the Darius fracas, nothing hinted at in this letter is efficient or decorous. If they hope to win points with the League Administration here they are going the wrong way.
What will the fallout be?
The most immediate concerns that I can see revolve around Darius' legal team or, failing that, at least around the public perception of the effect this will have on Darius' employment opportunities. The ESPN article cited above is headlined, "Blazers Try to Blackball Miles". This is not the effect that the team was looking for, I'm sure. As soon as those insinuations are made you start getting unions and lawyers involved and then even people sympathetic to your situation start protecting themselves. This is the one way the Blazers could come out wrong in this: incurring penalties beyond just the reinstatement of Miles on the cap. The exact wording of the letter makes that unlikely as far as I can see, as it's not untoward for the Blazers to protect their rights and financial prerogatives even if such protection involves a former employee. They are specifically talking about teams and not about Darius himself. However specific wording tends to get lost in the dramatic rush. Therein lies the danger on that front.
[Edit: Because I've seen the accusation a couple places already, let me expand on this. This letter is definitely not collusion. Collusion requires willful participation from two or more parties. In order to prove that you'd have to prove teams did not sign Darius specifically because of this letter (if even that would do it). Clearly that's impossible. There are 100 reasons for not signing Darius besides this. Some burden of proof will almost certainly be on Darius' legal team to prove that this, and not something else, caused him to not be signed should they pursue legal action on his behalf. That's going to be a tough sell, especially since the letter specified the specific circumstances under which the Blazers would pursue litigation...circumstances which were related to team motives and not to Darius himself. On the other hand the Blazers would have a hard time proving motive for a signing, should it occur. In any case it's hard to imagine penalties for this going beyond the mere financial, even were an accusation proven on either side.]
It's near certain that other teams and other teams' fans will view the Blazer hierarchy with a skeptical eye. There's been a fair amount of Paul Allen money resentment over the years...enough that it's leaked through the media screen. It's not likely that a financial argument is going to elicit much sympathy. Unless this was leaked purposely, in concert with the Blazers' desire to make sure everybody knows what's going on, the fact that it was leaked shows some affront already. Nevertheless teams have a way of forgetting past slights when they want something from you and the Blazers have a fair amount of assets that other teams want. The most likely fallout will be other teams' fans having something else to rag on the Blazers about. No real harm there.
The most interesting part of the drama will be seeing how this is negotiated from here. What else will be said? Will the Blazer brass respond today? There are bound to be six different stories coming from different sources with takes on the whole deal.
Beyond that immediate interest this story will either fade into the background after Darius plays those two games (quicker if he doesn't) or will dribble into a series of litigations which will almost certainly take longer than next summer's critical period to conclude. I don't foresee the Blazers having to exceed the already-prescribed cap penalty in this case but I don't see them circumventing that penalty either, especially not through these means.