David Stern's Blocking of Chris Paul Trade Puts NBA in Jeopardy

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David Stern's Blocking of Chris Paul Trade Puts NBA in Jeopardy
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David Stern

On Thursday afternoon, the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets consummated a deal that would send arguably the best point guard in the league to Los Angeles while putting a two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol in Houston and giving New Orleans reigning six man of the year, Lamar Odom, a young super-scorer in Kevin Martin and another young feisty point guard in Goran Dragic and enforcer Luis Scola.  Just hours later, NBA Commissioner David Stern killed the deal, according to ESPN.

Once word spread that the Los Angeles Lakers were acquiring Chris Paul, NBA owners became furious. Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, sent a stinging message to Stern raging about how unfair the deal was.  The New Orleans Hornets, who are owned by the NBA, then blocked the deal citing "basketball reasons" without any explanation of what those reasons were.

The unprecedented blocking of a basketball transaction represents a long slide in decline of the NBA.  The NBA often clouds its decisions in secrecy, but when the NBA blocks an agreed upon trade and then fails to disclose any legitimate reason for its action, the fans, owners and players can't help but think that it is arbitrary.

Chris Paul has been nothing but the ultimate team player for New Orleans. He's played like a pro for them and built them up to relevance. Because of Paul's outstanding abilities, he's created a value for himself that intrigues superstar teams like the Lakers.

But this value also helps New Orleans because it creates the sort of value that can demand intriguing pieces to help a team rebuild quickly, in this case, Lamar Odom, Goran Dragic, Kevin Martin and Luis Scola.

Paul's notifying his team a year in advance that he won't be re-signing is not something that should be frowned upon, it should be applauded. After all, we all look down upon the employee that does not give his employer two weeks notice before quitting.

Here Paul gives his employer a year's notice and New Orleans was able to craft a trade that worked for them, the Lakers and the Rockets.

Dan Gilbert's message to David Stern argued that allowing the trade would not help restore competitive balance in the NBA. He premised most of this argument on the idea that allowing this trade would help the Lakers get the financial flexibility needed to acquire Orlando's superstar center, Dwight Howard.

Nixing a trade because it would help a team create another trade is not only dangerous, but unfair. How can the league acquiesce to punishing the Lakers for players they may acquire tomorrow, or two weeks from now or two years from now?

Dwight Howard may or may not come to Los Angeles, but that trade is separate from the Chris Paul trade. If Dan Gilbert's argument is persuasive, then no trade ought to be consummated because of the butterfly effect it may have on additionally improving a roster at some time in the future.

If the Lakers are playing chess, then they should be applauded for their cunning, not punished for it.

In any event, Gilbert's argument holds no water. First, Gilbert mentions that the Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown trade is the most like the Paul to LA trade where people were initially outraged. Then in the next breath, he concedes that the trade worked out for both the Lakers and the Grizzlies. I'd say so, Dan.

After all, the Grizzlies did knock off a contender for the championship in the playoffs last year.  But second and most important, this trade brought talent to smaller markets while diminishing the Lakers overall competitiveness.

Here, a small-market team, Houston, got a two-time NBA champion, the most skilled big man in the league and a shoo-in All Star.  Another small-market team, New Orleans, got young talent that they can use to rebuild and use as trade assets to acquire another star.

This is to say nothing of the competitive balance apparatus already in place, which is the NBA Draft. Currently, the only way winning teams can get better is either through trades or free agency.

Teams that aren't competitive can get better through the draft by having the first pick of acquiring young and formidable talent AND through free agency and the trade market.

If the two main arguments for nixing the trade are unpersuasive, then there leaves only one possibility. The league was not about to let the Lakers, once again, acquire the star talent that is on the table. The Lakers concentration of power in terms of recruiting the best players and pulling off the most improbable trades had to be stopped. 

Perhaps David Stern wanted to pave the way for LeBron and the Super Friends to cruise easily to a championship in this shortened season. Perhaps he wanted to see more turmoil in Lakerland after Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol were notified they were traded, or perhaps he just didn't think this thing through all the way.

But this precedent of allowing the league to nix trades that have been consummated in free bargaining without coercion or duress is disturbing. How can the Lakers, Rockets or New Orleans feel as if they are going to be able to get a fair shake?

The Lakers will have disgruntled players, the Rockets lost their chance at Pau Gasol whom they covet and the Hornets will get less talent for Paul or none at all.

More importantly, how is this good for the NBA?

It isn't, and the NBA's credibility is on the line.

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