Chris Paul Trade Angers Rejected Suitors, Raises Questions About League Propriety
The chain of events triggered by NBA Commissioner David Stern's "rejection last week of a three-team trade" that would have sent G Chris Paul to the Lakers, F Lamar Odom to the Hornets and F Pau Gasol to the Rockets -- which also was agreed to by Hornets GM Dell Demps -- "revealed how messy it is when a commissioner serves as league boss as well as team owner," according to Lance Pugmire of the L.A. TIMES. MLB purchased the Expos "en route to the team's relocation to Washington, and the NHL took over the Phoenix Coyotes when the team's owner filed for bankruptcy." But the NBA situation "differed because the Hornets had to deal an unhappy Paul ... before he might opt out of his contract next summer." Sources said that Stern "reviewed the three-team trade that would have sent Odom and the Rockets' Kevin Martin and Luis Scola to New Orleans, and concluded it was not the right deal." One factor "was that none of the three veteran players destined for New Orleans was an All-Star, and all three had big salaries." Meanwhile, the Clippers' "package leaves New Orleans with a group of younger players." By "rejecting the prior Paul deals 'for basketball reasons,' Stern effectively invoked the precedent of acting in the best interest of his sport." Stern also was "aware of another complaint by some critics who have heaped scorn on him for turning a blind eye before to the Lakers stacking their roster with Shaquille O'Neal, then Gasol." USC Sports Business Institute Exec Dir David Carter said, "This was a make-up call of sorts by the league that helps skew how this is ultimately viewed" (L.A. TIMES, 12/16).
APPEARANCE OF IMPROPRIETY: YAHOO SPORTS' Adrian Wojnarowski wrote of the Paul trade, "There’s an appearance of impropriety that ought to be unsettling to everyone." One NBA GM said, "That’s our problem as a league now. Everything they do gets thrown into question now, because they have conflicts everywhere. It all got exposed in this one -- all came out in the public." The NBA "pushed aside a standing general manager" in Demps, and the league office, led by Stern, President of NBA League Operations Joel Litvin and Exec VP/Basketball Operations Jackson "ran the trade talks for the Hornets." For Stern to "get on a conference call and force Demps, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and Rockets GM Daryl Morey to listen to him say, 'Dell never thought the deal to be done,' is beyond disingenuous and insulting." Stern "can say it, and Demps, the Lakers and Rockets can’t ever challenge him." NBA sources said that Demps "made the deal because no one had ever told him of the league’s mandate to receive young players and picks for Paul until after they killed the initial Lakers trade" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/15). ESPN's Dan Le Batard said, "A lot of people are giving David Stern credit today because he got a better deal for the Hornets than the one from the Lakers, so that’s good. ... But in the process he embarrassed his league, he embarrassed his general manager” (“Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable,” ESPN2, 12/15). The N.Y. Daily News' Bruce Murray said, "The only thing they did wrong here was not having Dell Demps come to them before announcing the deal was done and asking permission to execute the deal. They were acting in the best interest as any owner would and today they sit with a better basketball team” ("Daily News Live," SportsNet N.Y., 12/15).
PERCEPTION IS REALITY: The AP's Jim Litke wrote, "Give the NBA boss an 'A' for effort by maneuvering Chris Paul to the Clippers for the sake of competitive balance." But also "recognize the deal for what it was: a raging conflict-of-interest that could come back to haunt him soon enough." The "real consequences of the swap won't be known at least until next year's draft picks have played a sizeable chunk of the season, but this much we already know: Stern pulled the rug out from under the Lakers" (AP, 12/15). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said despite Paul being traded to the Clippers, there is "still an absurd conflict of interest that the league ought to have been able to avoid” (“PTI,” ESPN, 12/15). The Daily News' Murray said, "The problem that they have is the perception. The idea now is that the NBA had an agenda and they wanted to make sure that they could at least control this movement without him going to a big-market team." SportsNet N.Y.'s Jonas Schwartz said, "This does give all the conspiracy theorists -- who have more conspiracies about the NBA than anybody else -- that David Stern just has everybody like marionettes and he's controlling everybody. That's the PR problem. You can't have a commissioner having that reputation” ("Daily News Live," SportsNet N.Y., 12/15). L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke said, “It’s a huge black mark on the legacy of David Stern forever, the fact that basically he took Chris Paul ... and gave him to a struggling team instead of a perennial winner” ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 12/15).
LOCKOUT MORE ABOUT OWNERS THAN PLAYERS: Lakers G Kobe Bryant said Thursday, "We always contended as players that the lockout was really more so about the owners fighting amongst themselves, which is what you just saw (with the vetoed trade). You got Chris Paul coming here and the other owners weren't with that, because you don't want another great player coming to L.A., and all of the sudden Los Angeles has another player that can carry them on well after I retire. So, it's more about the owners bickering amongst themselves." He added, "I think other owners did not want the Lakers to make significant improvements again" (ESPNLA.com, 12/15). Bryant also said, "It’s part of the business. ... But the other owners weren’t with it. Simple as that" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/15).
LAWYERING UP: In Houston, Jonathan Feigen notes when asked about "how he felt about having the NBA refuse to authorize his trade for Pau Gasol, [Rockets GM Daryl] Morey said, 'On the advice of counsel I can't talk about it.'" A source said that the Rockets are "not 'planning' to sue the NBA over the issue." But Feigen notes Morey "had feelings so strong" about the NBA's rejection of the deal that he "sought legal advice before he would share them" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 12/16). Morey said that he "has not spoken personally" to Stern about the situation, and added that he "didn't know if team owner Leslie Alexander had spoken to Stern, either." Morey said, "I haven't heard from him" (AP, 12/15).