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Darius Miles is now a Boston Celtic. He signed a non-guaranteed contract and now, two-plus years after a "career-ending" knee injury, he's looking to return to the league. The former third pick in the draft, Miles's greatest impact will occur 2,500 miles to the west. When Miles's knee injury was determined to be career-ending, the Portland Trailblazers were able to get his remaining contract taken off their salary cap. If he plays in ten or more games over the course of the next two seasons, two years and $18 million will go back on the Blazers' payroll. In other words, if Danny Ainge heads to Oregon expect Kevin Pritchard and Francis Fratelli to force him to do the truffle shuffle and threaten to blend his hand unless the Celtics cut Miles.
The effect this season will be largely monetary. Portland already has to shell out $27.25 million to Darius for the privilege of not having him on their team. If Miles plays ten games the Trailblazers will instantly become $10.35 million over the luxury tax threshold. The greater impact will be felt heading into the 2009 season. Portland has only $15 million in contracts for the 2009/10 season, but several team options and restricted free agents to be concerned with.
It's a virtual lock that the team options for Greg Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Brandon Roy will be picked up. Sergio Rodriguez's team option is for less than two million and depending on his play this season will probably be picked up as well. The total contract value for 2009/10 rises to $32 million.
Ike Diogu, Channing Frye, and Martell Webster will all be restricted free agents following this upcoming season. Webster was a starter and Frye a contributor off the bench. Martell will be their first re-signing priority and they would like to keep Frye for frontcourt depth, but depending on his play his price tag could rise too high. Diogu will likely be the odd man out. If the Blazers are able to keep both Webster and Frye it will cost the team in the neighborhood of $15 million, for a new grand total of $47 million.
The salary cap for the 09/10 season will likely be in the neighborhood of $61 million. The Blazers had hoped to have plenty of cap room to be players in the free agent market, but with the addition of Darius Miles’s contract they will be at approximately $56 million of the $61 million cap. They also will have to decide if they want to keep Steve Blake whose contract is not guaranteed for the 09/10 season. The veteran leader is a competent floor leader and one of their best 3-point shooters.
Combined with new draft picks the Blazers will be pressed up against the salary cap. If they want to add a free agent, they’ll be forced to subtract from their own roster. The following year, both Brandon Roy and LeMarcus Aldridge will be up for contracts and the year after, Greg Oden. The cap flexibility and surplus of young talent will slowly erode.
It’s hard to feel bad for the Blazers when GM Kevin Pritchard has been open about trying to dissuade other teams from considering Miles and the leak of a positive drug test that would result in a ten-game suspension for Miles if he makes it back. It would be hard to argue with any team (particularly in the west) signing Miles solely for the purpose of screwing with the Blazers cap space. As it stands now, the extent of Portland’s short term success may hinge on the attempted comeback, three time zones away, of an inconsistent forward, who at one point was compared to Kevin Garnett. Keep those antennas up to see how it all plays out.