It’s not easy to simultaneously tick off multiple people across three different cities, but NBA Commissioner David Stern managed this dubious feat when he vetoed the trade of star guard Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday. Paul, arguably the league’s top point guard, asked to be traded from his current team, the New Orleans Hornets. For their part, the Hornets were reluctantly willing to oblige this request since it was unlikely that they would be able to re-sign Paul at the end of the season.
However, since the Hornets went bankrupt last year, the franchise is technically the property of the NBA’s other 29 owners, and they had the power to block the Paul move. Say what you will about Paul’s motives to leave and how he is just another over-privileged athlete looking to abandon a city and a franchise that has supported him over the years. But the real villains are the team owners themselves who meddled in this affair for purely self-interested reasons and took an already toxic situation and made it radioactive.
As I’ve written in the past, I’m no fan of the NBA owners or Stern for the inept and callous manner in which they handled the recent lockout. But I’m willing to concede that one point they raised during the lockout has some merit: The divide between the so-called “big market” teams (i.e., New York, L.A.) and the “small market” teams (New Orleans, Cleveland) is a problem that threatens the competitive balance of the league. While some might argue that the problems small markets face stem mainly from bad management of their resources, it’s a troubling sign that a competitive franchise like the Hornets, which made the playoffs three of the last four seasons, can lose the services of its best player in Paul because he wants to play in a more glamorous media market.
Having said that, it’s certainly Paul’s prerogative to work and live in whatever city he chooses. Hornets General Manager Dell Demps attempted to make the best of a bad situation by trading his disgruntled guard for a package of players, including last season’s NBA Sixth Man of the Year and Khloe Kardashian’s beau Lamar Odom, that could help his team. Unfortunately, however, the perception that the big market Lakers “won” by acquiring Paul was enough to convince Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert that the trade was "a travesty" and should be blocked.
Never mind the fact that the Lakers gave up considerable assets to make the trade, or that all three teams involved were satisfied with their returns. The real issue at play here is that an owner such as Gilbert, who remains bitter about losing Lebron James, can influence the manner in which another franchise chooses to conduct its business. Just imagine how incensed you’d be if you ran a business and one of your competitors dictated who should be hired and fired. There’s no reason to believe that NBA owners acted in the best interests of the league, or even the Hornets themselves; instead, they wanted to show Paul and the other players in the league who’s the boss (or bosses, as the case may be). They may have accomplished that goal in the short term, but in the long run it’s hard to think that this won’t further embitter players towards the owners and make them even more recalcitrant the next time a labor dispute occurs.
Gilbert may be right in referring to this situation as a travesty, but not in the way he intended: not only do the Hornets lose leverage in future trade negotiations involving Paul, but the Lakers as well as the Houston Rockets must contend with players who know that they are no longer wanted by their present teams. The now-defunct trade offered a “win-win-win” scenario for the three teams involved, but thanks to NBA owners now everyone loses.
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