The Los Angeles Lakers thought they were getting an early Christmas gift, acquiring All-Star guard Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets on Thursday night. That was until NBA Commissioner David Stern torpedoed the deal amid pressure from other NBA owners.
The deal would’ve sent Paul to Los Angeles, Pau Gasol to the Houston Rockets, and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic, and a 2012 first round draft pick to New Orleans. It appeared to be a done deal and was announced shortly after 7 p.m. last night.
About 90 minutes later, Stern killed the trade, leaving all the players and front office personnel involved in disbelief.
“I don’t know what to do for the Lakers,” Odom told the Los Angeles Times. “I’m even weirded out by the league doing what they did. I don’t know what to do.”
Odom told the Times he thought it was a joke when he was first told about the trade to the Hornets.
“And then it doesn’t go through,” Odom said. “Oh, Lord. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ll pray about it.”
Stern’s reasoning behind it was that he feared that the players still had too much leverage in forcing where they could go, with Carmelo Anthony’s forced trade from Denver to New York last season being the most glaring example.
Compounding matters, the NBA has owned the Hornets since buying them from George Shinn in 2010 and has been searching for a new owner to keep the franchise in New Orleans.
Many owners felt the trade was essentially the NBA fixing the deck in favor of another big market team, in this case the perennial contending Lakers. The problem is that nixing the trade doesn’t help the Hornets, as Paul has made it clear he is not staying after the season and the team will likely get nothing in return when he leaves.
Stern, who has been unavailable for comment on the matter, was bombarded by calls and e-mails from angry owners who felt the trade went against the entire reason the owners forced the lockout. Ironically, the players and owners ratified the new CBA yesterday.
Two of the loudest protesters were Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. Gilbert sent a very angry e-mail to Stern chastising him for initially allowing the Hornets to make the deal.
“It would be a travesty to allow the Lakers to acquire Chris Paul in the apparent trade being discussed,” Gilbert said in the e-mail that was also sent to NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver and other owners. “This trade should go to a vote of the 29 owners of the Hornets. I just don’t see how we can allow this trade to happen.
“I cannot remember ever seeing a trade where a team got by far the best player in the trade and saved over $40 million in the process. When will we just change the name of 25 of the 30 teams to the Washington Generals?”
Gilbert also noted that the trade would’ve allowed the Lakers to leverage the ability to trade for Orlando’s Dwight Howard later in the season.
Paul tweeted a one-word response to the trade’s sudden end: “WoW”. Indiana Pacers’ forward Danny Granger was a little more blunt in his assessment of the trade on Twitter.
“Due to the sabotaging of the LA/NO trade by David Stern, and following in the footsteps of my athlete brethren Metta World Peace (Ron Artest) and Chad Ochocinco, I’m changing my last name to ‘Stern’s B*tch’,” Granger tweeted. He later said that he was joking.
Dell Demps, the Hornets’ General Manager, put the entire deal together, and never heard word from the league that he wasn’t able to make it happen, and in fact had been in constant contact with the league offices during the entire process. According to Yahoo Sports and NBA league sources, Demps had to be talked out resigning last night after Stern killed the deal.
“Stern cared about two things: selling that franchise for the best possible price and showing the players that they weren’t going to dictate where teams could trade them,” a league source told Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
“But now, there’s no way that the league can allow Chris Paul to be traded at all; otherwise, Stern is basically deciding where one of the top players in the league is going versus having any fair process.”
Stern has been a lightning rod since taking over as the NBA’s chief executive in 1984. Often criticized for his hands-on style treatment of teams and players – including instituting a dress code after the 2004 season and having numerous public disagreements with players, coaches and owners over the years – he has even been characterized as a slave master.
In October, during the height of the lockout, Bryant Gumbel evoked the slavery analogy during his closing comments on HBO’s Real Sports. Among other things, Gumbel said that Stern saw the players as “his boys” and “hired hands.”
“Stern’s version of what has been going on (during the lockout) behind closed doors has of course been disputed, but his efforts were typical of a commissioner who has always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer, treating NBA men as if they were his boys,” Gumbel said.
“It’s part of Stern’s M.O., like his past self-serving edicts on dress code and the questioning of officials. His moves were intended to do little more than show how he’s the one keeping the hired hands in their place.”
“Some will, of course, cringe at that characterization but Stern’s disdain for the players is as palpable and pathetic as his motives are transparent.”
As much as Roger Goodell is criticized for his, at times, heavy-handed penalties in the NFL, Stern is on the verge of alienating NBA players as well as the fan base. Paul has made it clear he wants out of New Orleans and might not report to Hornets’ training camp today. The same can be said for Odom, Gasol, and Martin.
“Imagine how Pau feels,” Odom said. “Pau came to the Lakers and played here for four years, went to the Finals and lost, won two NBA championships and then got swept (by Dallas this year). Imagine how he must feel.
“Man, I’m just in total disbelief about all of this. They don’t want my services, for whatever reason. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I was proud to be a Laker, so I’ll try to help them in the process as much as possible.”