- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 14, 2009

STORY OF THE WEEK

PORTLAND PAYING FOR POOR PLANNING

It’s understandable that the Portland Trail Blazers would be bitter that they never got any positive returns from the six-year, $48 million contract to which they signed Darius Miles in 2004. But their fear of getting burned by the injury-plagued player once again — this time in the form of $18 million and a luxury tax hit - turned to paranoia as they threatened lawsuits against any team that signed Miles following the Jan. 10 date in which contracts turn to fully guaranteed deals.

Before signing with Portland, the former lottery pick — who had stints with the Los Angeles Clippers and Cleveland Cavaliers — was considered a bust. But the Blazers gave him a big deal anyway, only to have a knee injury limit him to just 103 games from 2004 to 2006. Portland waived Miles at the end of the 2007-08 season when a doctor determined he had yet to recover from a November 2006 microfracture knee surgery. Miles tried to catch on with the Celtics earlier this season, and then with the Memphis Grizzlies, but has only appeared in two games.

When Memphis waived him last Wednesday to avoid having to pay him a guaranteed contract the rest of the season, it looked as if the Blazers would be off the hook. But when word surfaced that Miles might get picked up by another team, the members of Portland’s front office broke out in hives. If Miles signs and plays two games, the Blazers would have to take that $18 million hit and pay $8 million toward the luxury tax. That in turn would kill any wiggle room the Blazers have to spend on free agents this summer.

First, the Blazers considered signing Miles and stashing him on their bench to ensure no one else would sign him and play him, but the league told them they couldn’t do that. And then legal threats came, which made Portland look worse.

But when questioned about the threats, Portland team president Larry Miller said: “We were hearing a lot of rumblings and rumors that there were teams out there planning to sign Darius Miles specifically and maliciously to hurt our organization. This was our way of responding to that and letting folks know that we are not going to take it sitting down.”

Well, the Grizzlies — not batting an eye at the threats - have acquired Miles again, this time to a 10-day contract. Two more games of action and the hit kicks in for Portland.

It’s a shame to have to continue paying a player that never lived up to his contract, but injuries happen. Perhaps Portland should have considered not signing a player already deemed a bust to such a large deal in the first place.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

ORLANDO MAGIC

The Orlando Magic last season became one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams. But this year — and especially in the last week — Dwight Howard and company are making a case that they belong among the league’s elite. First came back-to-back wins over Atlanta — the second of which was a 121-87 thrashing — and then a 105-98 victory over San Antonio to improve to 30-8 and surpass Boston for second place in the East and also join the Celtics and Lakers as the only 30-win teams in the NBA.

Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis remain Howard’s sharp-shooting sidekicks, but the most improved player on the team is point guard Jameer Nelson. The former first-round draft pick is having a career year averaging 16.4 points on 50.4 percent shooting and 5.1 assists.

POWER RANKINGS

1. L.A. Lakers (30-6)

With the league’s best player and a host of weapons, the Lakers are a nightmare matchup.

2. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (29-6)

LeBron James and Co. take over top spot in East after knocking off Boston, which is stuck in a funk.

3. ORLANDO MAGIC (30-8)

SuperDwight and his gang continue to impress after pulling off big win over the Spurs.

4. BOSTON CELTICS (31-9)

The champs are 4-6 in their last 10, but remain a favorite in any seven-game series when healthy.

5. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS (22-12)

CP3 and the Hornets are one of only three teams that have wins over the Lakers and Cleveland.

6. SAN ANTONIO SPURS (24-12)

The Spurs - as usual - fly under the radar, but still can beat anyone at any time.

7. DENVER NUGGETS (25-13)

Chauncey Billups continues to fuel the Nuggets’ big improvement this year.

8. DETROIT PISTONS (22-13)

The Pistons still have some things to figure out, but remain a force in the East.

9. UTAH JAZZ (23-15)

Even with Boozer out with knee surgery, Deron Williams and Co. keep rolling.

10. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (23-14)

LaMarcus Aldridge has averaged 21.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists in last five.

LOTTERY WATCH

GRIFFIN APPEARS WORTH THE WAIT

Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin was a projected top-five pick last year, but opted to stay in school another year. Now he’s widely considered as the top NBA prospect in the nation. The 6-foot-10, 245-pound forward — often compared to Carlos Boozer - has averaged 22.4 points and 13.8 boards this year.

THE BOTTOM FIVE

Oklahoma City6-333-725.0

Washington7-303-719.9

L.A. Clippers8-290-1015.6

Sacramento9-292-811.9

Golden State11-282-88.8

* chances of landing No. 1 pick

NUMBER OF THE WEEK

19

Consecutive double-doubles posted by Utah’s third-year forward Paul Millsap before having his streak snapped against Detroit on Saturday. Millsap, who is averaging 15.3 points and 9.5 rebounds, has helped the Jazz remain in contention although Carlos Boozer hasn’t played since November.

TROPHY TRACKER

MVP

1. Kobe Bryant: Just as deadly (27.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.6 apg) but more selective: career-high .481 shooting clip.

2. LeBron James: His 27.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg and 6.6 apg have pushed Cavaliers to a new level

3. Dwyane Wade: Back and better than ever with 29.0 ppg, 7.0 apg, 5.1 rpg, 2.2 spg and 1.6 bpg

Rookie of the Year

1. O.J. Mayo: Great size, quickness and IQ, Mayo (19.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.0 rpg) makes seamless transition.

2. Derrick Rose: No. 1 pick (16.7 ppg, 6.2 apg, 3.6 rpg) steadily assuming more responsibility.

3. Marc Gasol: A true center unlike Pau, Marc (11.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.1 bpg) has great footwork and instincts.

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