Free agent forward Darius Miles arrived in Memphis early Saturday morning and signed a nonguaranteed contract with the Grizzlies following a physical examination.
I’m hungry. Anybody in the position I’m in, and has been through what I’ve been through the past two years, if he’s not hungry he shouldn’t waste anybody’s time,” Miles said. “I’m hungry. I ain’t quitting. I feel like I can still do this. I wouldn’t even waste the Grizzlies’ time if I felt like my career was over.”
“We got very good reports from Boston that he was really getting close to what he used to be,” Griz coach Marc Iavaroni said.
“We’re taking a shot to see if he’s a guy who can resurrect his career and help us,” Griz general manager Chris Wallace said. “We need to find more veterans not just so much for leadership but for production on the court. We need guys who have been there a little bit.”
Everyone’s saying the right things, at least. And the Grizzlies do indeed need veterans, as well as just more talent. But the cynical side of me thinks they might have an ulterior motive.
The point of that whole draft day deal with Minnesota was not just to trade up to get O.J. Mayo, but also to create some cap space. With the contracts of Antoine Walker and G-Buck not guaranteed past this season, Memphis took on the extra year of Marko Jaric’s salary in order to open up $6 million in cap space next summer, a saving afforded by moving the salaries of Mike Miller and Brian Cardinal for the two aforementioned unguaranteed deals. Mike Miller isn’t the kind of player you gift away, but when doing so gets you a valuable trade-up and $6 million more in your already-decent cap room, it can be worth it. Memphis, along with Oklahoma City, will now have oodles of cap room to work with next summer, and even if free agents aren’t big on the idea of signing there, Memphis will at least be able to pursue whoever they want.
The thing is, though, that Portland also figures to have cap room. Quite a bit of it, in fact. Even after Martell Webster’s extension, it only takes the renouncements of insignificant players such as Ike Diogu, Channing Frye and Raef LaFrentz, plus the waivings of decent backups Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw (note: they’re decent backups in an ideal world, if not currently), and Portland suddenly has 8 figures of cap room. General Manager Kevin Pritchard has spoken about how he’s trying to trade LaFrentz’s salary, which would scupper any cap room chances, but Outlaw and Blake signed deals with unguaranteed final seasons for this very reason: Portland has 2009 cap room aspirations, and always has.
Those cap room aspirations will be roundly screwed, though, if Darius Miles plays ten games with somebody else. If this happens, Miles’s significant salary ($9 million each of the next two seasons) is put back on Portland’s books, after it had initially been taken off due to Miles’s medical retirement. However, playing ten games invalidates that medical retirement, and the salary would be on Portland’s cap figure once again, making cap space an almost impossible (and unworthwhile) aim.
Since they traded Javaris Crittenton to Washington, the Grizzlies have only 13 players under contract, and Hamed Haddadi is in the D-League. This leaves Antoine Walker on the active list, despite him having not played a minute all year, being out of shape (for a change) and being out of the team’s plans. Therefore, the Grizzlies can easily leave Miles on the active list even for the ten games of his drug-related suspension. After that, he just needs ten games as a tenth man, and suddenly Memphis loses one of its few competitors in next year’s free agency market. All for the $500,000-or-so cost of having Darius Miles around for six months.
And that’s just a bargain.
Of course, maybe I’m being overly cynical. It’s happened before, many a time. Maybe they have only the best of intentions, and really think that Miles will provide a lot both on and off the court for them. But somehow I doubt it. Perhaps they should just admit it.