"Basketball Reasons" Sink Chris Paul Trade, Could Hurt Future Of NBA
The above phrases served as the NBA’s internet memes during the NBA lockout, giving avid fans something to laugh about during the tumultuous five-month period. On Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011, the NBA community gained a new meme. A meme with actual unfortunate value: basketball reasons.
Unless you don't check ESPN, Yahoo! Sports, Sports Illustrated, CBS, NBC, Twitter, Facebook or any other form of media regularly, you knew the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Hornets and Houston Rockets had agreed on a three-team trade, sending Chris Paul to L.A., Pau Gasol to Houston, and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a 2012 first-round draft pick (via the New York Knicks) to New Orleans.
Laker fans across the world rejoiced, as the second leg of their coveted tripod appeared to be in place (Paul, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard). Hornets fans were a little uneasy seeing Paul go, but knew this was the best they could get for him. Rockets fans? Many were against the deal, regretting trading their two best players for a non-franchise player in Gasol.
Not so fast, though. David Stern, as he has done increasingly over the past few seasons (and especially during the NBA lockout), had to put in his two cents and intervene. In a stunning move, Stern nixed the deal, sending the NBA community into a tailspin of shock and disbelief. Not a fair deal for "basketball reasons."
Oh really David? Please, do explain.
Last time I checked Paul has all but held a press conference announcing he's leaving New Orleans. Whether it is now (via trade) or later (free agency next summer), he's gone. New Orleans is in the same position the Denver Nuggets were in last year with their former star player, Carmelo Anthony.
The Nuggets, taking a cue from what happened to the Cleveland Cavaliers (who lost LeBron James to the Miami Heat) and the Toronto Raptors (who lost Chris Bosh to the Miami Heat), decided to move Anthony before he left in free agency. The Hornets hoped, and are still hoping, to do the same thing. You don’t want to be stuck with a crappy roster, no assets and no star player.
Why not let New Orleans make a fair trade?
You don't think Kevin Martin (one of the best shooting guards in the league), Luis Scola (a crafty veteran with one of league’s best low-post games), Lamar Odom (the reigning sixth man of the year that would start on almost every team in the league), Goran Dragic (one of the NBA's best back-up point guards) and a first-round draft pick in one of the deepest drafts (arguably comparable to those in 1996, 2003 and 2008) is a fair deal? Seriously?
How could the Hornets have made a better deal? No one is giving them a superstar in return for Paul (unless the Knicks try and move Amar'e Stoudemire to form a Paul-Carmelo Anthony-Tyson Chandler "Big 3" ... but the Hornets likely aren’t having that). That's not how the league works; whenever a superstar has to leave, you never get a fair deal for him (look at basically every deal for a superstar in history). The best the Hornets could do is trade in their dollar bill (Paul) for four quarters (Martin, Scola, Odom and Dragic).
This begs the question: Did Stern block the trade because he didn’t feel it was fair for the Hornets (which is a preposterous claim) or because he wants Paul to stay in New Orleans so he can sell the team? The latter is even more preposterous. All potential buyers know Paul is eventually leaving, and would value the team more if they got something in return for him rather than if letting him walk.
Honestly, who knows? Yes, that's a terrible analysis. But what the commissioner did is so indefensible that it is almost impossible to understand his reasoning. I can't really make any sense of it.
But trusting my gut, if you will, I would say Stern did it because he didn’t want Paul and the Lakers making a second "Big 3" right after the lockout ended (which basically boiled down to players vs. owners and big-market teams vs. small-market teams). Stern wouldn’t let Paul, or any other player, cheat the system. You want to leave New Orleans? You'll have to do so in free agency, losing an estimated $40 million or so. And you're sure as hell not going to the Lakers.
In all honesty, which most Laker fans will never realize or admit, Stern had every right to deny the trade. The league owns the Hornets. All 29 owners own the Hornets. If they are against the trade, they can block it.
However, although it's technically allowed, it's just not right. There are certain unwritten rules. And one of them is the league doesn't intervene with trades, even if they own a team. The owners aren't going to want to accept any trade to the Lakers, or even the Knicks to a lesser extent, because they don't want the big markets to stack up superstars.
Because of "basketball reasons," the Hornets were denied their shot at a fair deal. Even worse, GM Dell Demps probably won’t be able to trade Paul during the season, as doing so would be hypocritical and condescend Stern's decision-making. How can Stern accept a Paul trade with another team, especially if it's not as fair of a deal? The truth is, he can’t. The Hornets are screwed.
So where to go from here? Will Stern admit his faults, correct the mistake, and move on while taking a minor hit? Or will he stand by his decision, try and manipulate the public through his typical vague and generic justifications, and attempt to patch this up like it never happened (which most people will forget – not Laker fans, of course – when the season starts)? How are the teams supposed to accept back the players they just traded (let's just say Paul and Odom weren't too happy to return to Lakers training camp today)?
Knowing Stern, he won't accept any deal. He won't go against his word. If he does, I’ll be shocked. And if he actually accepts a trade, it won’t be because he actually wanted to. It won't be because he felt it was the right thing to do. It will be because it's what saves the league from boycotts and strikes from angry fans, players and organization officials.
As I previously mentioned, there was an NBA lockout that lasted five months. Most people, true NBA fans, haven't forgot that yet. And on the eve of the start of the season, with transactions starting to occur and training camp ensuing, Stern laid down the hammer and law: We will not let our star players dictate their futures. Once you're drafted to a team, you must stay there. Competitive balance is key! Parity is best for the NBA!
The NBA is going to take a major PR hit for this, considering the anger at losing games due to a lockout combined with the league manipulating the futures of multiple franchises.
As Bill Simmons points out, at least five franchises were directly affected – the Lakers, Hornets, Rockets, Knicks (signed Tyson Chandler because they didn't think Paul was available), and the Celtics (who openly shopped Rajon Rondo and likely destroyed their relationship with him). Seeing resentment so strong that current and former players are palpably outraged is not a key ingredient to restoring the NBA’s value after years of success.
Don't be surprised if fans turn away from the sport. Don't be surprised if players act out in certain ways to spite the league. Don't be surprised if the teams involved fight to reverse the trade, or if Chris Paul attempts to sue the NBA. Don't be surprised if David Stern's legacy is tarnished forever.
And that will be because of basketball reasons.
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