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The Chris Paul Trade Disaster

Imagine you have to get your car sent in for some repairs because it won’t start. After a few days, you get your car back and find that it does not start again. The repairman promptly amasses 15 people, who succeed in pushing the car three inches forward. Then, the repairman tells you “See, it works! You said the problem was that you couldn’t get it to move, and now it does!”

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Would you think that the car was fixed? (Just shake your head no.) Would you try to push it all the way home? (I really hope not.) Would you think that the repairman is an idiot for trying to tell you that it worked? (Uh, yes.)

Why do I bring this far-fetched analogy up? Because that’s exactly what the NBA tried to do by vetoing the Chris Paul trade to the Lakers. A huge reason why we had the lockout (the “car breaking”) was because small market teams couldn’t compete with big market teams in terms of profits or talent. One of the biggest reasons for the disparity was the relative ease with which superstars could leave for large market teams. By all accounts, there was no reason that the lockout should have gone on as long as it did when all the NBA needed was a small tweak in its business model. The NBA wants to deny that a large majority was spent on bickering between various interests and the egos of the players and owners (as opposed to coming up with actual solutions to problems). One of the “solutions” that supposedly came out of this lockout was measures passed to make it easier for small market teams to keep their star players.

Enter Chris Paul. Coming off a postseason in which he very nearly dragged the Hornets to an upset over the Lakers, he wants out. While it’s regrettable that Paul wants to abandon the Hornets, you can certainly understand him wanting to play on a professional basketball team. So trade rumors start flying back and forth while every NBA fan is glad that there’s something to focus on besides the lockout. I was even caught during history class trying to take some notes on Paul’s options at the time (much more appealing than taking notes on America’s reform movements. I know I shouldn’t have, but in my defense, CHRIS PAUL WAS BEING TRADED.) Pujols had signed with the Angels earlier that day, Paul and Howard rumors were swirling; it was a very good day to care about sports.

That night, I casually searched “Chris Paul” to see if anything had happened, and the first thing that came up was “Chris Paul L.A.”. I was immediately ecstatic because I thought that he had been traded to the Clippers and I would get to see six to seven years of Paul tossing Blake Griffin ridiculous alley-oops. Unfortunately, I found that he was being traded to the Lakers. Instead of a young team saving Paul’s knees and becoming the most exciting team in the NBA, we get treated to a team who just built itself around two superstars (one of them fading) with a track record of knee injuries. Sounds great. The Hornets got to rebuild around Lamar Odom, Luis Scola and Kevin Martin (not a championship team, but not a bad team by any means), and the Rockets finally got a signature big man in PauGasol. If we really examine this trade closely, one can clearly see that the Lakers had the most to lose here. They gave up Gasol, their best trade chip as well as their inside presence, to get another exciting perimeter scorer to team with Kobe. However, given Kobe’s age and Paul’s injury history, that team could never win the title five years from now without Dwight Howard. The Hornets and Rockets are two teams with nothing to lose. In other words, they’re playing with the house’s money right now. The only real risk in this trade lies with the Lakers. They’re counting on the fact that the Magic will trade them Dwight Howard, and that they’ll take Bynum and a high draft pick for roughly 110-120 percent of what they’re worth. If this were a high stakes poker game (which it was to some extent), the Rockets and Hornets would have gotten up, cashed out their chips, and left the casino with a little bit more money than they came in with. The Lakers? They’re all in. Either they get Dwight Howard and become the second Big Three in the league or they can kiss their chances of being the team of the decade (which is clearly their aim with these risky trades) goodbye.

Enter Dan Gilbert. You remember Gilbert, right? The guy who whined and insulted LeBron on his way out after having every single opportunity to build a winning team around him? The guy who comes across like the annoying kid who takes the ball, cries, and goes home after he loses? Ring any bells? Well, here he is again, ready to complain about something else. Here’s the email that he sent to David Stern regarding the Paul trade:

It would be a travesty to allow the Lakers to acquire Chris Paul in the apparent trade being discussed.

This trade should go to a vote of the 29 owners of the Hornets.

Over the next three seasons this deal would save the Lakers approximately $20 million in salaries and approximately $21 million in luxury taxes. That $21 million goes to non-taxpaying teams and to fund revenue sharing.

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. And it doesn't appear that they would give up any draft picks, which might allow to later make a trade for Dwight Howard. (They would also get a large trade exception that would help them improve their team and/or eventually trade for Howard.) When the Lakers got PauGasol (at the time considered an extremely lopsided trade) they took on tens of millions in additional salary and luxury tax and they gave up a number of prospects (one in Marc Gasol who may become a max-salary player).

I just don't see how we can allow this trade to happen.

I know the vast majority of owners feel the same way that I do.

When will we just change the name of 25 of the 30 teams to the Washington Generals?

If you don’t listen to me, you’re not my friend anymore. I’m taking my ball, going home, and you’re all not invited to my birthday party.

(OK, I made the last two lines up. The rest is real though).

You can’t remember seeing a trade where the team got the best player and saved money? With the way you’ve been running you’re team, I’d believe it. You had the best player in the league and could never surround him with anything more than castoffs from other teams. Fans of your own team and others feel that what you did was pure idiocy. However, people make mistakes sometimes. Gilbert is a loudmouth, but so is the coach of my favorite team (Rex Ryan of the New York Jets). Nothing to worry about, right? Wrong. This is where the real “travesty” is. We have one more integral piece of this story to introduce. Enter David Stern.

Stern has always been a great commissioner. The league almost immediately took off after he began his reign as commish, and he had as much to do with saving basketball as Bird, Magic, and Jordan did. However, his inability to control his own league during the lockout has been disheartening. He stopped being the cagey innovator and master manipulator that we all knew and loved years ago. The new owners intimidated him during the lockout, and the players lost respect for him. Like I said, the lockout was more a clash of egos than a clash of opinions. The players won, the owners won, Stern lost.

This brings us to the night that the new CBA was ratified and the NBA was officially back. Stern sees Gilbert’s email. The old Stern would have laughed Gilbert off and said something along the lines of “I’m not nullifying this trade and if you would like to try and stop the CBA out of revenge, go ahead and try. I’m sure your fans will love it.” However, new Stern isn’t like that. New Stern pressed the panic button and nullified the trade, saying that “it was not within the best interests of the league.” I’m sure that every fan believed that Paul going to L.A. was bad for the league, even after the NBA had already given Hornets general manager Dell Demps permission to trade Paul as he saw fit. I’m sure that there was nobody pulling Stern’s strings such as, oh, I don’t know, Dan Gilbert. The real damage here is not the Paul trade, which will happen eventually. The real damage is the precedent. Setting precedents is very dicey, and Stern just set the precedent that commissioners can nullify trades and not have to explain their reasoning as to why. Does that sound good to you? Me neither.

So where does that leave us now? As of late Saturday night, the deal was being resubmitted with minor tweaks for approval, with the Rockets asking for other, undisclosed players. All other parts of the trade seem to be the same as of now, except for one important thing. is reporting that there are several teams that might want to enter the deal, one of them being (drum roll please)….. the Cleveland Cavaliers! Suspicious? I certainly think so. The deal might be reformatted, but the most immediate damage (the Hornets’ season being destroyed by the Paul drama) seems to be averted. The long term damage is the brandishing of too much power by the owners, a dangerous precedent for NBA commissioners, and the ultimate decline of David Stern.

Moreover, how do you define the damage with the fans? As it turns out, the only side that didn’t have a legal team at lockout proceedings happens to be the side keeping the NBA afloat. After the lockout, fans just wanted something to focus on, a sign of normalcy. Instead, the future of the league appears more uncertain than ever, with fans staying home to watch games instead of buying tickets. The league just missed its opening month, and nobody that actively watches football really cared that the NBA was gone. Last year, 22 out of the 30 teams lost money, despite 2010-11 being described as one of the greatest years in league history. The NBA had the chance to tinker with its economics and become profitable again, and it felt like steps were being taken to ensure that would happen. This was the league’s first chance to emphatically say “We’re back!” Instead, in turned in to the biggest debacle in league history. Now that’s a travesty.