After 30 years on the job, David Stern's final day as the NBA commissioner is today. On February 1st, deputy commissioner Adam Silver takes over the reins and Stern will go into retirement. Over the eight or so years I've been writing an NBA blog, I've had plenty to say about Stern. I've never liked his imperious nature or his smug demeanor with reporters and the public. His handling of the NBA lockout in 2011 left much to be desired: how he managed to claim poverty on behalf of the owners even while franchises were being sold for record valuations -- and actually get away with it and win a more favorable Collective Bargaining Agreement from the players -- is beyond me and represents hubris in the highest degree.
But Clippers fans can thank the imperious Mr. Stern for twice sticking his nose in where he may or may not have had a legitimate right to interfere, and in the process helping to create the best Clippers team in franchise history.
Everyone knows of course that Stern vetoed the trade of Chris Paul to the Lakers in 2011. He famously cited "basketball reasons" for nixing the trade of Paul for Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol, ostensibly doing so not as the Commissioner of the NBA but as the owner of the Hornets. Any NBA owner could veto a trade, and at some level that's what Stern was doing, but the fact that Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavaliers, sent a very petulant letter complaining about the deal shone a different light on the decision, and made it seem as if Stern's goal was to keep the Lakers from getting Paul.
After that deal fell through, the Clippers stepped into the void with an offer that Stern the Hornets owner liked better, and the greatest point guard in the NBA was suddenly headed to the least successful franchise in the NBA. But that's old news. Let's not talk about that.
This summer when Doc Rivers let it be known that he'd prefer to head to a contender than to go through a rebuilding in Boston, the Clippers and Celtics immediately began looking for a deal that would allow the under contract Rivers to come to the Clippers. But given that the entire impetus of the departure was that the Celtics were going to tear down their team to start a rebuild, it was obvious that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were also on the trading block.
Garnett has a no-trade clause, a house in Malibu and a deep respect for Rivers -- if Rivers was headed to the Clippers, it only made sense for Garnett to head west as well. And as the Clippers and Celtics were negotiating a deal to release Rivers from his Boston contract and let him sign with L.A., word leaked that the teams had worked out a trade of Garnett for DeAndre Jordan.
Stern moved quickly to kill the deal. Coaches could only be traded in special circumstances, and never for or with players, since that sort of deal would circumvent the salary cap rules in the CBA. Stern let it be known that Garnett could not be traded for Jordan so long as the Clippers and Celtics were negotiating a Rivers deal, and furthermore that even if the deals were broken apart, he would not allow it. To him, it was obvious that the deals were linked, that there was a quid pro quo between the teams in getting the Rivers deal done, and he would have none of it. When the deal was finalized that brought Rivers to L.A. for a 2015 first round pick, it included a clause that precluded any trades between the Clippers and the Celtics for one year.
So instead of a west coast reunion with his buddy KG, Rivers was stuck with Jordan: and he immediately began building up the youngsters confidence and explaining to him in the league would be as a single-minded defensive marvel.
Jordan is leading the league in rebounding and field goal percentage; he's fourth in blocked shots. He's 25 years old, a significant factor compared to the 37 year old Garnett. KG is averaging around seven points and seven rebounds per game. His PER of 12.6 is far and away the lowest of his career.
By vetoing the trade of Chris Paul to the Lakers, David Stern made it almost inevitable that Paul would end up with the 'other' L.A. team. By preemptively barring any trades between the Celtic and Clippers in the wake of the Rivers affair, Stern saved the Clippers from making a bad trade, one that would have sent away a younger, more productive big for one that is really showing his age this season.
That's two thirds of the Clippers' big three who are Clippers in part because of the power of David Stern. Paul could be throwing lobs to DeAndre Jordan for many more years in L.A., long after Stern is gone. But each time DeAndre dunks a CP3 lob, we'll raise a glass to David Stern, the man who made it possible.