On Thursday, December 8th, the NBA stepped in to veto a trade between the New Orleans Hornets, Los Angeles Lakers, and Houston Rockets that would have seen point guard Chris Paul move to LA. In the deal that was agreed upon by all three teams, the Lakers would have acquired Paul, the Rockets Pau Gasol, and the Hornets Lamar Odom, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, and a first round pick in the 2012 draft. After the media had released details of the trade, the NBA – in their role as owners of the New Orleans Hornets – stepped in and pulled the plug on the deal. Who won, and who lost in this turn of events?
Los Angeles Lakes – Losers
If there was anything that the Mavericks sweep of the Lakers in last season’s playoff showed, it was that LA needed to reinvent their team in order to compete this season. Chris Paul was the main threat to them in their series in the previous round against the Hornets, and them trading two of their big men to acquire the 26-year-old point guard was recognition that they needed help for Kobe Bryant. Even if Paul has struggled with injuries due to a persistent knee problem, the risk was worth it for LA – CP3 would be the biggest name point guard the franchise would have had since Magic Johnson retired. Now it appears they have to go into the season with an aging Derek Fisher starting along side Kobe in the back court, not to mention the difficulty in turning back to Gasol and Odom – players who they have openly tried to trade. The Lakers relationship with these two seven-footers will be as awkward as the one between Jimmy Darmody and his mother in Boardwalk Empire – with both players being sensitive in nature and unlikely to handle a public rejection too well. While there is no guarantee that acquiring Chris Paul would have propelled the Lakers back to the NBA Finals next June, going into this season with essentially the same team as last year reduces their chances greatly.
New Orleans Hornets – Losers
The Hornets are now facing the same year that the Cavaliers had two years ago – fearing that next summer they will lose their one superstar player to free agency, with nothing coming back in return. While Cleveland still had some hope that LeBron James would remain in Ohio, the Hornets seem resigned to the fact that Chris Paul will be moving on one way or another by the time next season comes around. This trade would have given the team four legitimate starters in return, as well as an additional draft pick next year, making them probable playoff candidates. If Chris Paul remains this season, they may well make the post-season – but after that they face a lengthy rebuilding prospect with no compensation for his departure. Having undertook a successful advertising campaign that has seen them sell more than 10,000 season tickets and reinvent a franchise that looked likely to depart New Orleans in the near future, now the Hornets have been put in a position where they seem to have lost control of their own basketball destiny and are at the whim of the other 29 owners.
Houston Rockets – Losers
Since Yao Ming retired in the summer, after chronic injury problems had reduced his play time over the last few years, the Rockets have needed a replacement center to focus their team around. Pau Gasol would have been a perfect fit for the team – another guy over seven-feet tall, like Ming, who is among the top 15 players in the NBA. He helped the Lakers to win back-to-back titles and was the best player in the game 7 victory over the Celtics in 2010. While they were paying a high price to get him (Scola/Martin/Dragic/Knicks’ number 1 draft pick in 2012), the franchise had been built for this kind of addition this summer, as they had known in advance that Yao Ming would be unlikely to return.
The NBA Owners – Losers
Maybe they believed that the Lakers would be far too good to compete against if they acquired Chris Paul, thus affecting the competitive balance of the team. Perhaps they just wanted to flex their muscles as co-owners of the New Orleans Hornets. Whatever the reasons, it seems the owners of several NBA franchises put pressure on David Stern to veto this trade and ensure Chris Paul did not sign with the Hornets. The owner of the Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert (here with the Comic Sans script repost of LeBron James after he took his talents to South Beach before last season) was at his computer banging out another e-mail on Thursday night – complaining that this deal would turn 25 of the NBA teams into the Washington Generals – the foils for the Harlem Globetrotters. After a summer in which the owners hardly covered themselves in glory with the manner they handled the negotiations with the players during the lockout, this trade veto is another step in showing how petty they can be. Three teams agreed a trade for basketball reasons, nobody was being ripped off or getting an unfairly good deal, yet they claimed it affected the competitiveness of the league. Perhaps as they were unable to prevent the collusion between three free agents last year when James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade agreed to take less money in order to play together in Miami – this was their opportunity to flex their authority and stop Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant playing together. While those two may have forged a formidable pairing, there is also no guarantee that the tactic would have worked for the Lakers anyway. Chris Paul’s knee problems could return, or Kobe’s own aging legs could further decrease his effectiveness as they have in the last few years. The Heat last season had difficulties in ensuring Wade and James each enjoyed enough time on the ball, given that both of them had been used to being the focus of their team’s offense prior to them joining forces – that same issue could have arisen with Bryant and Paul. It was a gamble for the Lakers – and they were given up two players who had helped them make three NBA Finals in succession prior to last season – yet other teams decided the trade was unbalanced and unfair.
David Stern – Loser
The Commissioner of the NBA now appears to be someone who will decide where the superstar players in his league will ply their trade and which of his teams get to make trades. He just oversaw a lockout that threatened to cancel an entire season, now he has vetoed a trade between three franchises who had all agreed upon the deal. When the NBA bought the Hornets last year to ensure they were able to remain as a functioning franchise, they assured everyone that all basketball decisions would be left to the General Manager – Dell Demps. This has now proven not to be the case and, if they allow Chris Paul to be traded to another team, this would be the biggest scandal of the NBA trying to dictate who is successful in the league since the Tim Donaghy scandal – the referee who was convicted of gambling on games he was officiating in and making calls to affect the point spread. While his corruption was limited to just those fixtures he was in charge for, this decision to veto a trade has altered the landscape for three franchises and therefore the entire NBA.
The Fans – Losers
It would have been great to see Chris Paul as a Laker – love them or hate them the games between themselves, the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics would be even edgier than they have been in years gone past. Chicago will be competitive again, but they and Oklahoma City are probably still a season away from being title contenders. If Los Angeles are now a spent force, and Boston could have shot themselves in the foot in trying to deal Rondo for Paul themselves, this season could end up being a procession for the Heat. Seeing Kobe and Paul team up would have been fascinating, just like it was to see Wade and James try to co-exist last season, and if they had been able to make the Finals then seeing the four of them face off in a seven-game series would have been can’t miss television. Also, fans of “Khloe and Lamar” on E would have got to see them hanging out in New Orleans and partying on Bourbon street…
Chris Paul has not lost yet – he will still get the opportunity to decide where he plays next summer. Even if he is traded before then, he does now have to sign an extension with that team, though he runs the risk of an injury this season hampering his opportunities to secure a lucrative contract in free agency. Nobody won with the nixing of this trade – everyone comes off worse. Great job, David Stern.