Tuesday, January 13, 2009

One More Game

So here it is Tuesday night in Portland, and things around Darius Miles just keep getting stranger. It was learned today that Portland had actually attempted to pick him up on waivers after Memphis waived him. Whether it was their intention to stash him on the bench for the rest of the year, or on our injured list, the NBA denied the waivers claim and Miles resigned with Memphis. This now puts him 2 games from the magic figure where the insurance claim the team filed to offset his salary is voided because he played in the required number of games after being declared medically retired. Whew, and I try to avoid run on sentences when I can, but there was a lot to cover there.

ESPN also reported today that the NBA won't fine or discipline the team after the email that went around threatening legal action against other teams that signed him for the intent of messing with the salary cap space for next year. And Darius put up 13 points in 14 minutes for the Grizzlies versus the Cavaliers tonight. It would appear that even the Players Association won't file action yet, because Miles has signed and is now playing, so apparently the end result of all of this is that on Friday, Miles plays in his 10th game effectively putting his salary on Portland's books for the next two years, pushing us over the cap and having to pay luxury tax.

The situation stinks to high heaven, but apparently you can trade players for the purpose of seeing them waived and then resign them. This happened most recently with Antonio McDyess, who was with Detroit, but traded to Denver with Chancey Billups as part of the Allen Iverson trade. McDyess was waived because Denver was over the salary cap and didn't have room on the roster. Approximately one month later, McDyess resigned with Detroit and all is well. Dallas did this with a player they traded a few years ago, resigning him right before the playoffs. So I wonder what is different here that what Portland tried to do? The premise for each move is the same, allowing teams to pick up players without adversely affecting their salary situation.

The problem is that Portland has always had a bit of an odd relationship with the NBA. I think our team is well liked enough, but we haven't hosted an All Star game here ever. There was squawking when the first overall pick from the 2007 draft came here and we took Greg Oden, which then led to an season of rehab watch when he hurt his knee before the season. We have one of the richest men in the world as our owner, and he's not afraid to use his resources to help our team where he can. Paul Allen cares enough to spend the money, and he's got people in the organization that make sure it's spent right. The team has everything going in the right direction, and there might be some resentment. Apparently, our GM, Kevin Pritchard, isn't well liked by some GMs because of his brash attitude about success and using new technology for scouting and evaluating talent. Face it, there's plenty of ways to manage a team, and right now, Pritchard is doing things right. But that doesn't stop fans in other cities from saying "Trail Blazer fans are whiners about this" or "I'm tired of hearing about the Blazers."

To all of them, I say tough. You haven't had to endure the pure embarrassment of watching the Jail Blazers from the early 2000's literally destroy every good piece of will that most fans had towards the team. The group may have had basketball talent, but you couldn't turn on the TV or read a newspaper without hearing about something one of the players had done. The list goes through drugs, dog fighting, drag racing, marijuana found at an airport wrapped in tin foil by a metal detector, fighting amongst the players, player insubordination, bad attitudes, surliness with fans and media, getting arrested and showing a trading card as identification. It was a tough time to be a fan of this team, and that wasn't always the case. Yes, we got a little spoiled with success in 1977 and then runs in the 90s with our great teams. But we had good guys and always seemed to be a basket short or a run away from pulling off a title. And then Bob Whitsitt came into town, and changed the philosophy of the team. They became paranoid and insular, and the chemistry of a team was thrown away for quick wins. When things are good and the team is winning, all is well. But, shake it up with some drama, and then watch the fireworks.

It was the hardest time ever to be a fan, watching other NBA fans make fun of us because of our legal issues and trouble. I wore my Trail Blazers gear but more conspicuously than in the past, and going to games was more of a chore than actual enjoyment. I kept waiting for the other shoe to fall, but the more things happened, the more distant I kept getting from the team. I couldn't be proud of a team that didn't care about themselves, their city, or the legacy of the players that played before them.

Darius Miles represents that legacy of those teams, playing only for themselves and their paycheck, selfishly avoiding the responsibilities of being a professional athlete. I understand people make mistakes, but that team repeatedly took any good will built up and destroyed it. Allen even considered selling the team because attendance was so bad and people were abandoning ship in droves. And so we now have a new era of success and doing things the right way, and then, a reminder of the past comes cropping up. The legacy of the Jail Blazers crops up, and won't quickly go away.

I'm ready to move beyond all of that, but there seems to be things that keep pulling us back to rekindle those days. And I resent it, I resent having this situation affect us when we followed the rules, and Miles decided now was the time to rehab and work hard, ignoring the medical advice to retire. It will be nice when all of this is past us, and we can finally put some distance between that dark chapter in Trail Blazer history. We should never forget the lessons of what that team taught us. It's important to win, but it's more important to win doing it the right way.

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