So we were all set to talk about the irony of the Los Angeles Lakers seemingly saving the New Orleans Hornets less than a year after ending their season in the playoffs and getting all excited to talk about the addition of Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin and Luis Scola (not to mention a few first-round draft picks) when a few NBA owners complained (as they are wont to do) and David Stern brought down an iron fist (ditto) and nixed the trade.
The story per ESPN is that a group of owners, already grouped together in New York City to sign the new collective bargaining agreement, voiced concern to the commissioner that this kind of trade undermines the spirit of the new agreement. Stern agreed with the owners and, because the NBA currently owns the Hornets, instructed the team's management to squash the deal.
The reasoning behind this decision seems to come from good intentions (one of the big arguments of the labor dispute was that small-market teams can't compete with larger markets to keep star players) but if you look deeper you can see that Stern is basically just sticking it to the players one last time.
According to a league source, Stern and the owners "didn’t like that the players were dictating where they wanted to go. He wasn't going to let Chris Paul dictate where he wanted to go."
This is LUNACY. Or maybe during all the lockout madness David Stern and the owners about that little detail about the league as it pertains to players and their teams. You know, that period when a player runs out the length of his contract and decides he wants to ... oh, what's the phrase I'm looking for? Oh that's right: when they become a free agent and dictate where they want to go.
Chris Paul, either tomorrow or in six months, will one day cease to be a Hornet. He has made his intentions clear on that. New Orleans' only hope was to pull off a trade with a team willing to give the Hornets fair value for Paul, even though the Hornets lost all their leverage when Paul began stating where he would and wouldn't sign an extension. Somehow, the Hornets were able to pull off that deal. By terminating the trade, though, Stern has sacrificed the league-owned team in order to make a hollow statement to one of the league's premiere superstars and all-around good guys.
Way to go, commish. You really showed that greedy Chris Paul what's what. Now he has to wait until early summer to go to the team of his choice instead of being with one now.
When the NBA purchased the Hornets last year, Stern promised that he wouldn't interfere with the team's basketball operations. For a while, Stern seemed true to his word, even allowing the Hornets to pull off a mid-season trade while fighting for playoff positioning last season. This reasoning makes perfect sense considering it behooves the league for the Hornets to remain competitive and, thus, be more able to attract a buyer that will be able to offer a return on the league's investment in the team.
And yet, at what could be a turning point for this franchise and its foreseeable future in New Orelans, Stern's reasoning failed him. The Hornets are radioactive right now and the chances that they will receive fair value for their superstar point guard seem tiny. After all, if the Lakers can't trade for Paul, why would the Celtics, Clippers or Knicks be able to? Do the Hornets have to deal exclusively with the Oklahomas and Charlottes of the NBA to trade Paul? And why would those teams want to trade for a player who they know will immediately bolt for his desired market after the end of the season?
Obviously everyone in New Orleans wants to keep Paul for the duration of his career. But Paul has made his intentions not to stay clear to general manager Dell Demps. The Hornets, wisely, have been doing everything in their power to make sure that they get a good return on a once-in-a-generation player as opposed to losing him for nothing in free agency. Demps all but assured that the Hornets would be able to thrive in a post-CP3 environment by acquiring an all-star caliber forward in Lamar Odom, a reliable veteran in Luis Scola and a budding star in Kevin Martin. Oh, and the Hornets got multiple draft picks down the line so that they can continue to build their franchise, all while staying competitive and keeping their season ticket holders happy. What's not to love about this deal?
Everything, if you're David Stern. Because this deal, no matter how good it is for New Orleans, is a signal to him that all the problems that were fought over during the lockout weren't really resolved and that, as far as the public is concerned, the big-market teams still get their pick of the superstars. More ominously, in Stern's eyes, is that the superstars still their pick of big-market teams to go to. Stern saw that, for once, he had the power to stop this kind of trade and he took it, consequences for the Hornets (and the fact that Paul will be a free agent and get to do whatever he wants anyways) be damned.
Demps, coach Monty Williams and President Hugh Weber, saw a potential catastrophe unfolding with Paul and, rather than see it blow up in their faces, were able to pull off a deal keeping the team on a competitive level that's attractive for fans and potential buyers. Unfortunately for the Hornets brass, they're still owned by the NBA and that means they were caught up in the remaining labor crossfire between the players and the league.
New Orleans' only hope now is that an owner swoops in and buys the team ... and then trades Paul to the Lakers as they had planned all along.