David Stern has vetoed a proposed trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers and Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom to Houston and New Orleans, respectively. The Houston part isn’t important to this discussion, at least not yet, so let’s skip it for a moment.
Here’s what you need to know: the Hornets agreed to send Chris Paul to the Lakers. The Lakers, for their part, surrendered Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom to get the deal done.
The Hornets, mind you, have no leverage whatsoever. Siberian nomads fully understand that Chris Paul is not resigning with New Orleans when his contract expires at the end of the season. This is one of those situations when terms like “fire sale” and “pennies on the dollar” are used ad naseum.
Chris Paul, it can’t be stated too clearly, is leaving New Orleans.
New Orleans has a losing hand. They’re not playing with their cards close to their vest. They’re not wearing a vest. Or a shirt. Or pants. Or skivvies. New Orleans, I’ll say again, doesn’t have any leverage.
Yet Hornets GM Dell Demps still managed to land Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom from a position of extreme vulnerability–not a bad haul.
Did Demps get the absolute best deal on the table? Who knows. People will argue. But given his circumstances, forcing the Lakers to give up players of real significance is no small feat.
Hooray for Dell Demps, his dollar, and the fifteen cents he started with.
Or so we thought. Don’t get all back-slappy just yet—things are not what they seem. Dell Demps did not convert a losing hand into multiple borderline All-Stars and a valuable draft pick. Instead, Dell Demps was secretly advancing the league’s hidden agenda of promoting the success of the Lakers. This trade wasn’t about improving the Hornets or setting them up for a quick rebuild. This trade was really about the league, which currently owns the Hornets, exploiting the Chris Paul situation for its own benefit. And we all know that means placing the Lakers in a position of strength. There can be no other explanation.
It wouldn’t do for Chris Paul to go to Boston or NY or, even, heaven forbid, the other Los Angeles. Chris Paul must play for the Lakers. The league benefits if the Lakers benefit and this was an ipso facto case of brazen favoritism. How else could one explain the Lakers giving up nothing more than the measly pairing of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom?
Thankfully, what we’ve learned over the past few months is that the NBA is protected by a righteous band of flaming cherubs—true crusaders for fairness and equality. Its owners. And they wouldn’t have it. Their shouts for justice rang out and David Stern responded by vetoing the deal.
Dell Demps, we assume, is still allowed to trade Chris Paul, but not to a large market team, or at least not to that large market team. Let him pick freely from the available talent in Milwaukee and Minnesota.
In its entire history, the NBA has never seen such a lopsided trade. Ever. And if the NBA had allowed this event to set a precedent of questionable, even unthinkable, personnel maneuvers, then what? This sort of thing DOES NOT HAPPEN in the NBA. NBA owners do not turn their thumbs up to questionable player signings or lopsided trades.
(The NBA later denied that it had acted in response to its owners; instead, the NBA claims it didn’t like the trade for basketball reasons. David Stern, in other words, just told Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom that they are no where near as talented as Chris Paul. Sorry Pau, but this isn’t even a race. You lost before you left the mark.)
There are other wrinkles, of course. Intriguing wrinkles.
When the trade was first reported, we learned that Demps had orchestrated a three team deal that would have seen Pau Gasol go to Houston in exchange for Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, and a 2012 first round draft pick. Again, not a bad haul. One might quibble, and maybe it’s better for NO to simply hold onto Gasol, but whatever. Scola, Martin, Dragic and a pick is a nice collection of talent. That conversation is a distraction and causes use to lose sight of the big issues.
While we appreciate the league’s willingness to safeguard the world from favoritism, we have to ask: did the initial swap (Paul for Gasol and Odom) actually improve the Lakers?
Chris Paul has bad knees. Kobe Bryant is old. The loss of Odom and Gasol dramatically weakens the Lakers frontcourt. At least one smart guy thinks Stern did this to save the Lakers from themselves.
And maybe that’s the real conspiracy. Maybe David Stern realized the Lakers were getting the wrong end of the ugly stick and crashed in to save Jerry Buss from certain folly.
Those wrinkles I mentioned run deep and all across the face of this thing.
The Lakers were all set up, some suggest, to trade Andrew Bynum to the Orlando Magic for Dwight Howard in the immediate aftermath of Hornets trade. Everyone knows that would not be fair. It’s like stacking a team with LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. There is no way a team like that loses. Championships are unavoidable.
Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard together on one team? Unstoppable.
Now that Stern has quashed the Paul deal, nothing prevents the Lakers from executing a trade for Dwight Howard. Perhaps that still happens. But at least, by nixing the Paul deal, the Lakers roster is kept in check—the best they can now do is a core of Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard. It’s so obvious why the NBA owners rushed in, their red capes all alive in the wind.
The only possible response to a roster featuring Paul, Bryant and Howard is, “Damn it, that’s just not right.” But we don’t have to worry about that now. The NBA looks after the little guy. It will not allow deals that unfairly promote the success of big market teams. You can have your Howard/Gasol/Odom/Bryant Lakers, you can’t have your Howard/Bryant/Paul Lakers. We live in a world of boundaries and I’m thankful David Stern and the NBA owners know how and when to draw the hard lines.