As of 6:30 PM yesterday, Chris Paul was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. He was a part of a three team trade involving Pau Gasol going to the Houston Rockets, and Luis Scola, Lamar Odom, Goran Dragic, and Kevin Martin heading to New Orleans. The Hornets also got a first round draft pick (formerly belonging to the New York Knicks) in 2012. It seemed to help every team involved. The Lakers get the first piece of a grand scheme to net two of the top five players in the league. Houston needed size up front pretty badly. The Hornets were looking to go lower in payroll, while at least appearing to want to remain competitive and sell tickets. The deal on paper actually seems to be the least beneficial to the Lakers, and they get the superstar point guard in this scenario. The deal was met with a considerable amount of excitement, as no one really appeared to lose. This news coming off the heels of the end of the lockout was really helping the NBA put the labor issues behind them and move forward.
Then an hour, later the deal was all but dead. NBA Commissioner David Stern moved to block the trade allegedly in an attempt to appease several disgruntled team owners; whom had only hours before approved a new collective bargaining agreement. The group of owners were allegedly claiming that the trade compromised competitive balance of the league as a whole. Stern didn’t publicly acknowledge this, instead maintaining that the deal was blocked for “basketball reasons.” Whether or not Stern had the authority to do this is another issue entirely. The new deal itself should have prevented any this from happening. You see the New Orleans Hornets are actually owned by the NBA, which is in some ways to say it’s owned by the other 29 owners in the league. Cleveland Cavaliers owner and seller of wall decals to divorced men Dan Gilbert was particularly vocal, as an email he wrote to David Stern called the trade a “travesty” and suggested that he and the other non-involved owners should put the trade to a vote. Since they do not vote on other everyday operations for New Orleans like draft picks or free agents, that wouldn’t really be an option. Also it’s important to remember that 29 teams voting to determine the actions of one would be considered collusion under, you guessed it, the brand new CBA. The league bought the team since the old owner was a bit of a shady dude, and when he intended to sell, the league dropped $300 million to conduct the owner search themselves. The NBA then appointed Dell Demps as the general manager, and he hired his own personnel to run the team like a normal franchise. It seemed that would have included the ability to pursue trades and free agents as he saw beneficial to the team. It was determined that Paul was a trade-able asset. Paul did publically ask for a trade but the idea that he was lobbying to go to the Lakers is false. He seemed to have made it very clear that if it was up to him he would have signed with New York all along. While it was technically caving to player demands, New Orleans did what was best for New Orleans.
Paul, who is in the last year of his deal with New Orleans, has made it very clear he will not be returning to New Orleans after this season. Even if they had the money it would take to sign a player of his caliber, Paul had grown impatient with his surroundings. Seeing other mega-rosters being assembled elsewhere can do that to a guy, I suppose. This left the New Orleans front office no choice but to see what they could get in return for such a rare talent. When the trade lived, it had seemed the Hornets had done incredibly well for themselves considering they weren’t in the best situation to negotiate. They picked up a good bunch of solid players, and a draft pick along with losing the money off Chris Paul’s contract. They could have made a run and snaked a playoff berth. Instead, Paul remains with New Orleans indefinitely. If you could not manage to trade him in a deal that looked as good as the one that was on the table, it’s fair to say he isn’t available to be traded. Paul is already said to be receiving legal counsel regarding his options of going forward with some kind of legal proceedings. He’s got a hell of a case. The league could have cost him about $40 million from working out an extension with Los Angeles. Now the Hornets are faced with the very real possibility of losing Chris Paul without any compensation what so ever. The effects of losing a superstar player in his prime like that can set a franchise back for years.
Meanwhile, the other teams involved are left scratching their heads. Los Angeles’ vision of Paul-Kobe-Howard seems to be fading by the minute. Pau Gasol is likely to be present on the first day of Lakers training camp, though the same cannot be said for the disenchanted Lamar Odom. The Lakers had seemed poised to reset the franchise with new younger stars alongside Kobe as superstar turned cagey veteran presence. Kobe might have caught up to or even passed Jordan in total championships. Now they could realistically become a lottery team in a few seasons. Houston’s problem is very straight forward, where they were only trying to get better and got denied by the league. All three teams have filed appeals with the commissioner’s office, though at this point I would have to think there’s not much that can be done here. The best chance for the Hornets is that this thing gets overturned and the original deal is allowed to go through. Regardless of whether it does or not, you can’t undo this damage. The fans hated this. The media hated this. This is a league with such an opportunity to put the bad press behind them and announce that one of its biggest stars has been traded to its biggest market. A small market negotiated compensation for a soon to be departed franchise player, and did remarkably well for itself in the process. It should have been a day that fans had looked forward to since the league locked out this past summer. Instead it will be remembered as the day the league decided we’re all better off with Chris Paul playing for the Hornets, and the day we all realized we knew better.