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NBA Rumors - Chris Paul: What Just Happened?

Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

[Note by Steve Perrin, 12/08/11 10:00 PM PST ] Thursday is my basketball night and I dashed off this post and rushed out the door to my game. When I got back, I saw that there were zero comments and was stunned. Then I saw that it was closed for comments - I have no idea how that happened, but it's open now. [End note]

During a week when it looked like Chris Paul might very well end up being a Clipper or possibly a Warrior, he was traded to the Lakers today - until that trade was put on hold because of the objections of the other NBA owners.

I'm going to say up front that I haven't been around the computer much today, and that all of you probably know more about the details here than I do. Nonetheless, I feel like I need to try to put some context around the day's events. But bear in mind that this thing is far from over.

The proposed three-team trade shapes up like this:

  • The Lakers give up Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom and get Paul;
  • The Hornets give up Paul and get Odom, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a first round pick (2012 NYK pick from Houston);
  • The Rockets give up Scola, Martin, Dragic and the pick and get Gasol.

Focusing for a moment on the trade, I've been saying all along that the Hornets would never trade Paul for a package centered around Gasol - you can't lose the best player in the trade AND get significantly older at the same time. I may have been right about at least one thing - the Hornets aren't enamored of Gasol, but fortunately for them and the Lakers, the Rockets are.

In the proposed deal, I actually think the Hornets come out OK. Odom is unguaranteed next season, so they get salary relief on him. Meanwhile, if they truly coveted Eric Gordon, well, in a lot of ways Kevin Martin was Eric Gordon before Eric Gordon was. Martin is one of the most underappreciated talents in the league - a preternaturally efficient backcourt scorer who can drive, shoot with range and get to the line. He's not a good defender (one way in which Gordon is superior) but he's a very gifted offensive player. Scola is a poor man's Pau and Dragic has shown some flashes at the point - plus they get a first round pick, albeit probably one in the high teens.

On the other hand, why Houston would want to do this deal is beyond me. They gut their team for Pau Gasol. I think Pau is great, but you don't gut your team for him. Not at 31.

But all of that is irrelevant at this point, since the trade is on hold.

The whole situation is a disaster for the NBA. After a five month long lockout in which competitive balance was a major battle cry of the league, and the gap between the resources of big market teams and small market teams was another significant talking point, trading Chris Paul to the Lakers is a perfect storm of controversy.

  • Paul is an elite player, the best point guard in the league;
  • New Orleans is the league's second smallest market;
  • Los Angeles is the league's second largest market;
  • The Lakers are an absurdly high revenue team - they will be the highest revenue team when their new $200B TV contract kicks in this season;
  • The Lakers are arguably the most successful franchise in the history of the league, have won the championship two of the last three years, and are invariably used as the example of what is wrong with competitive balance;
  • The Hornets are owned by the league and looking for a new owner.

Given this confluence of factors, it's little surprise that the other owners cried foul when a team that they ostensibly own 1/29th of each decided to facilitate the construction of an even more super super team in purple and gold.

But it's also a disaster to block the trade. On what grounds would the trade be disallowed? Can the commissioner interfere based solely on the perception that one team is getting too good? As Chandler Bing once said, "Can - open; worms - everywhere!" After all, as I stated above, this isn't a bad trade for New Orleans. A veto may keep the superstars from aligning in LA, but it also keeps the Hornets from moving on from a difficult situation. If this veto remains in place, New Orleans will surely be forced to take a lesser offer from another team - or worse yet, to do nothing until Paul walks away for nothing next summer.

The precedent is less ominous if Stern has disallowed the trade acting as the owner of the Hornets rather than as the commissioner of the league. Owners veto trades their GMs make all the time - it's rarely a wise decision, but it happens, as Clippers fans are all too aware. And an owner would be well within his rights to veto a trade simply because he didn't want to help an opponent too much.

That's the only way I can see this veto staying in place - if Stern and the board of governors are acting solely as the owners of the Hornets, and not as the stewards of the league. Of course, it's impossible to disentangle one from the other in any real sense, but that should be Stern's position unless he wants to set a precedent with far-reaching consequences.