I, nor the NBA will ever get over “Basketball Reasons”
Over five years removed from one distinct moment, the NBA resembles something completely different than what it would had that moment never taken place.
On December 8, 2011 NBA commissioner David Stern, acting as the principal decision-maker of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets, vetoed a three-team trade that would have sent then-Hornets star Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers. The deal which was agreed upon by all parties sent Paul to the Lakers; Pau Gasol to the Houston Rockets; and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Luis Scola and a first-round draft pick (from Houston via New York) to the Hornets.
The NBA purchased the Hornets from owner George Shinn in 2010, so as commissioner, Stern had the liberty to make the decision to nix the trade. However, the NBA put Dell Demps in the general manager position for the Hornets and in that role, he had the authority to ship Paul elsewhere if he thought the move made sense for the franchise. Demps was specifically given the position to show the league would stay out of the Hornets’ affairs and given the first opportunity to intervene, the NBA reneged.
When asked to clarify their controversial decision, the league office stated “basketball reasons”.
The real reason was that the league was fresh out of a lockout which came about due to gripes over competitive balance and small markets’ ability to maintain their star players. This trade would have taken a superstar from a small market team and given him to a large market marquee franchise, who would also be shedding massive amounts of cap space, leaving the door open to potentially still trade Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard, forming a West Coast superteam to rival the Miami Heat’s Big 3.
Naturally, the rest of the league’s owners were upset since they literally just left the collective bargaining negotiating table discussing this very issue. Though Stern denied the other owners influencing his decision, several reports indicate that they did. Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert still fuming about LeBron James’s departure, was particularly opposed to the deal, writing a letter to Stern that was quickly leaked to the media.
The three teams tried renegotiating the deal but it fell apart and less than a week later, on Dec. 14, 2011, the NBA traded Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers for Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu and a first-round pick from Minnesota.
Half a decade later, the effects of this debacle are still being felt around the league but the two primary parties involved have shown over time, they would have certainly been better off without the NBA’s interference.
Eventually acquired Steve Nash to fill the Paul void as well as Dwight Howard but that experiment burned to the ground, almost immediately. Kobe Bryant, who never played alongside an elite point guard in his 20-year career and would have benefited tremendously from Paul’s arrival, attempted to single-handedly keep the Lakers competitive. But the effort he put forth would ultimately shorten his career.
Their front office also never recovered. The Paul acquisition should have been a home-run for the management team but as result of the nix, the Lakers have been a lottery team every year since the 2012–2013 season. Owner Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak were replaced by Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka this season in a messy breakup that continues to unravel.
Since joining the Clippers, Paul has continued to be a Hall of Fame-level point guard but has yet to reach even the Western Conference Finals despite a talented supporting cast. He is undoubtedly an all-time great at the position but with the powers that be in the western conference, it is reasonable to ponder if Paul will ever capture that elusive title validating his greatness.
To this day, the entire situation remains a polarizing debate centered on competitive balance, small-market success, a superstar player’s power and free will, and whether the league overstepped its boundaries even if it had the authority to do so. Both Chris Paul and the Lakers were good sports about it and decided not to make a public stink about it, but the point remains, what happened was absolutely unfair.