PHILADELPHIA – The Chris Paul fiasco places on center stage exactly what was accomplished during the NBA lockout.
All we heard during the lockout – aside from league owners whining about hemorrhaging money – was how the old construct prohibited teams in smaller markets from getting better and turning a profit; that teams in Los Angeles and New York would always hold an advantage over teams in less desirable places such as Milwaukee and Cleveland.
New Orleans, which had sought to trade Paul, has become the poster child for such maladies. Last year the league took control of the Hornets, hoping to be an attendant caretaker until suitable ownership can be found or the team moves.
Last Monday, Paul, a superstar guard in the last year of his deal, told general manger Dell Demps that he would not sign an extension with the team. Translation: If you don’t trade me, you’ll be left with nothing when I walk next year.
To his credit, Demps helped fashion the three-team trade that NBA commissioner David Stern has voided. The deal had Paul headed to the Lakers. In return, the Hornets would receive forwards Lamar Odom and Luis Scola, and guard Kevin Martin, players that likely would have made the Hornets better than they were with Paul last season. Throw in guard Goran Dragic and a future first-round pick and, while there would be no Paul, the Hornets would conceivably be a deeper team this season and, more important, would not lose Paul and receive nothing in return.
And while the Lakers would be adding a superstar to play alongside Kobe Bryant, they were also shipping off Pau Gasol to Houston, so it wasn’t as if the Lakers were not making any sacrifices.
It looked like a good deal. The Hornets would be stabilized and be in a better position to absorb Paul’s loss, and the Lakers, who have successfully managed the salary cap for years – which is why they are in position to pursue players such as Paul and Orlando’s Dwight Howard – would be teaming up Paul with Bryant, giving the league another superstar tandem in a major market, a condition that the NBA has always found desirable.
Now it appears that the opposite of what were said to be the goals of the lockout have occurred. The Hornets are being penalized for doing everything in their power to ensure that they don’t experience what Cleveland did when it lost LeBron James in free agency. And the Lakers, who have established and sustained a dynamic model of success, are also being punished.
What is suspicious about all of this is that Stern, who on Thursday announced the ratification of the collective bargaining agreement, has taken the heat on this one, despite indications that owners are meddling in the league’s affairs before the ink has a chance to dry on the new labor deal.
In an email from Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert to Stern obtained by multiple news organizations, Gilbert writes: “It would be a travesty to allow the Lakers to acquire Chris Paul in the apparent trade being discussed. This trade should go to a vote of the 29 owners of the Hornets.”
Stern bought owners some cover when he released a statement saying that “since the NBA purchased the Hornets, final responsibility for significant management decisions lies with the Commissioner’s Office … All decisions are made on the basis of what is in the best interests of the Hornets.”
This is unprecedented territory and it brings up all sorts of ethical questions. Despite their predicament, the Hornets have officials whose job it is to make prudent basketball decisions for the benefit of the team. They don’t need owners who really have just a limited stake in the franchise’s success calling the shots. And all the while, Stern has maintained that the team’s front office would make basketball decisions autonomously.
No matter what Stern says publicly, Gilbert’s email indicates that a majority of the league owners opposed the trade.
In the meantime, Stern has given the Hornets the freedom to deal Paul elsewhere. That’s the wrong answer. He should allow them to solve their problem with the same remedy they arrived upon early Thursday night. That’s the only real solution to the mess that’s been made.