The bully-boy bluff ends now because the Portland Trail Blazers always were without the guts to file a lawsuit over Darius Miles. Their threatening email had been a desperate final act of a franchise awash in arrogance. Blazers officials hoped the threat of Paul Allen’s riches could scare the NBA. Mostly, it made everyone laugh.
For whatever hollow intimidation they used to try to stop the signing of Miles, Blazers officials understood this: They were the last people who would’ve wanted to go under oath about the behind-the-scenes machinations of Miles’ injury retirement. Only the Blazers would’ve been on trial. Only they would’ve had to answer the most uncomfortable of questions.
From leaked drug tests and public proclamations of private medical records to trashing Miles to rival executives and daring to claim him off waivers to stash him away on the inactive list, Portland’s front office acted in bad form and bad faith. Yes, the Jail Blazers lived again.
So sure, go ahead and sue the Memphis Grizzlies for signing a player to a 10-day contract who had 13 points in a quarter on LeBron James, then 10 points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes on the Utah Jazz. Miles played his 10th game of the season on Friday night, and this saga finally is over. His $18 million goes back on Portland’s salary cap, and the Blazers deserve the return of every cap-clogging cent.
It isn’t a matter of whether Miles can play in the NBA again, but how well and how long. If he’s just a 10-day contract player, well, he’s the best of those available on the market. When his deal ends Monday, several league executives told Yahoo! Sports they’ll contact his agent about signing him.
Memphis is expected to offer Miles a second 10-day contract, but there could be better opportunities for him.
“I’m pleased with the production Darius has had, especially considering that he’s been off the court for over a year and a half,” Miles’ agent, Jeff Wechsler said by phone on Saturday. “He’s shaken the rust off, and he’s been very productive in the games that he’s played.”
The irony of it all, of course, is that Miles has turned into an improbable teacher to the Blazers, giving them some lessons on professionalism and humility. Yes, he had been immature for most of his career. He had made terrible mistakes. Only now, he has grown up. After having him with the Celtics in the preseason, the Boston Celtics’ Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers believe it. So does more and more of the league now.
Through it all, Miles never wished ill will on Portland. His comeback never has been about costing them salary-cap space on his injury retirement case. Management wanted out of his $48 million contract in Portland and found a way. All along, Miles told the Blazers he would try to play again. He honored his word.
And the better he has looked, the worse it has reflected on Portland GM Kevin Pritchard. As much as anyone, this mess has exposed him. He wanted to be the star in the good times in Portland, wanted all the bouquets and bows for his work on the job. He started to believe his own clippings, his own mythology, and he thought he could get away with anything.
From the start, Pritchard stumbled into the one rabid NBA market where a general manager can aspire to celebrity. Portland declared Pritchard the Golden Boy, the Gambler, and played songs about him on the radio. Never once did he seem embarrassed. Never did he do much but furiously feed the rush to declare him a genius.
He bragged of draining three cell-phone batteries a day. He bought high-risk stocks, and he never laid up on a par-5. He loves those little details about himself getting into the papers. True? Who knows? It sure made for a fast-rising legend, though. He wanted everyone to believe that he worked harder and longer and smarter. Maybe he thought it all portrayed a confidence, but it mostly masked an insecurity.
He had taken the San Antonio Spurs’ computer scouting programs and made them bigger and better. “Kevin’s baby,” the local paper said the Blazers called it in their offices. Rip City wanted a hero to make the Jail Blazers go away, and Pritchard indulged himself in it all.
Portland owner Paul Allen gave Pritchard the biggest stack of chips to bring to the table, and Pritchard flaunted them to everyone. He stockpiled draft choices like Reagan did nuclear warheads, buying up millions of dollars worth of picks from cash-strapped teams over the past several seasons. He never has been afraid to rub that advantage into the faces of his peers. The Blazers still haven’t been to the playoffs under him, but any opposing GM on the wrong side of a deal with Portland is considered to have been Pritch-slapped.
It’s strange, but every transaction in Portland has been treated like a validation of Pritchard’s genius. Now, his apologists are blaming Paul Allen and president Larry Miller for the Miles mess, only it doesn’t work like that. Pritchard is the face of the franchise because he made it that way.
Pritchard has mismanaged the Miles situation from the beginning. Once the league doctor agreed that Miles’ knee injury was a career-ender, Pritchard’s dubious intentions came tumbling out of him.
“Two doctors said Darius had the worst microfracture injury they had ever seen,” he publicly said. “They would never have him play basketball, and the odds of having knee replacement surgery [are] high. I hear that, and as a general manager, I didn’t want it on my conscience – that I had a kid have to go through a knee replacement surgery.
“That’s a pretty major surgery. They saw [two bones] and replace [the knee]. It’s a bad deal.”
His conscience, huh? Those were words directed at the rest of the league, trying to tell every other team that Miles was too far gone for them to consider bringing back. He must have believed people were stupid. All around the NBA, it made everyone think: Pritchard sounds scared that Miles isn’t done at all. Why else would he be trying so hard to convince everyone otherwise?
Bad enough that Pritchard spoke out of turn on a player’s medical condition and possibly violated privacy laws, but it was clear that a campaign to frighten away potential teams was under way. From there, it went underground. If the Blazers couldn’t scare people on Miles’ knee, it wasn’t long, league executives say, until Portland turned to his character.
Pritchard has a great eye for talent, but that’s just the start of constructing a contender, a champion. The greats of his profession understand the humbling nature of the job – genius today, bum tomorrow – and mostly stay in the shadows, deflecting praise on coaches and players. Once you try to make yourself the star in the good times, you’re asking for trouble when they go bad. So now, his hubris has been Pritch-slapped into silence, and maybe in the long run, it’s the best thing that could’ve happened to the Blazers. Maybe they needed this sobering reminder of reality.
Portland loses cap space now, and it loses some respect. All that arrogance, all those threats and a 27-year-old that Kevin Pritchard and his posse had dismissed as character-free, as the last holdout of the Jail Blazers, taught them a lesson.
Yes, the Jail Blazers made a comeback this season.
Only this time, they wore suits.