NBA 2012: David Stern Has the League in a State of Confusion

Brad VippermanCorrespondent IDecember 12, 2011

We don't understand what you're thinking either, David.
We don't understand what you're thinking either, David.Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Well, so much for basketball apathy.  Since the lockout ended Thanksgiving weekend, NBA news and rumors have been raining down on fans at a pace usually reserved for the NFL or Kim Kardashian.  Many of the rumors, culminating in this past week’s fiasco with Chris Paul, have only illuminated the fact that the league still has some serious problems.

I’m not trying to beat a dead horse here but there is unequivocally something strange going on in the NBA right now.  The league owned Hornets are dangling their best player in front of some of the league’s premiere franchises, only to reel him back in whenever one tries to bite. 

There are several theories behind this.  One is that all these rumors are a scheme conjured up by Stern and the NBA to quickly inject some interest back into the sport after a lengthy lockout.  Fair enough.  Leagues (not named the NFL) have a consistent history of losing fans during lockouts and often don’t return to their prior level of popularity for several years (or until a fascinating Home Run race).

If this really was Stern’s idea then he’s being the ultimate team player.  Allowing Dale Demps, the figurehead GM of the Hornets, to agree to a three-way trade with the Lakers and Rockets only to veto it for “basketball reasons” looks horrible.  If Stern did this because he knew Twitter would explode and ESPN would have to hire new field reporters to ensure 24-hour coverage then he had to know it would end badly for himself.  Agreeing to take the fall in order to ensure the NBA regains a frenzied level of interest would actually be really ... selfless.  It also virtually ensures that Stern either loses his job or permanently taints his legacy.  Seeing how Stern has handled himself over the years this seems incredibly unlikely.

Another theory is that David Stern has become drunk with power and thinks that he can run the NBA autonomously like a dictator.  Rejecting a completely fair trade by the Lakers, Rockets and Hornets for mysterious “basketball reasons” is one of the most selfish and damaging moves I’ve seen a commissioner make.  Not only did he rob the league owned Hornets of two quality forwards (Lamar Odom and Luis Scola), one of the better scoring two-guards in the league (Kevin Martin), a promising young point guard (Goran Dragic) and a first round pick but he ruined the psyches of every player involved.

It'll be over soon Chris...I think.
It'll be over soon Chris...I think.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Learning that your team has traded you always has to sting, especially when it’s unexpected.  It burns the bridge of trust that is necessary for one to feel good about playing for an organization.  So to hear that all-of-a-sudden, that trade has been cancelled by the league and you have to return to the team that just dealt you has to be an incredibly odd feeling. 

Imagine you lived with a girl (or boy) you’d been dating for over a year and things were going good.  Then one day she tells you that she’s accepted a job in another state and she’s moving in two weeks.  She also says that she doesn’t want to do a long distance relationship because she’s tried before and it never works out.  So basically you hug it out, say thanks for the memories, and help her pack her things. 

Then, two days before she’s supposed to move, she gets a call from her new company saying that the position she was going to be filling has closed up and her services will no longer be needed.  She tells you this and asks if she can unpack and try things again with you.  You know she’s only doing this because she doesn’t have another place to live, not because she loves you.  On the other hand, she always cleans up around the house and the idea of splitting rent sounds a lot better than paying it all by yourself.  This puts you in a tough, incredibly awkward position.

Neither person in this story wins.  They just co-exist until someone does something drastic.  That’s what the Lakers did this week.  After learning that the trade fell through and he’d have to go back and play for the Lakers, Lamar Odom made it clear he wasn’t happy.  As a result, LA was forced to trade him for Dallas’ first round pick (aka nothing).  I know they got back a trade exemption but let’s not kid ourselves.  Giving away a player that was so valuable to the Lakers and had played at such a high level for a pick in the late 20s and some money can only be described as a panic move.

Pau Gasol is putting on a brave face for LA but it’s clear that he isn’t too pleased either.  In Houston, I’m sure Scola, Martin and Dragic aren’t exactly jumping for joy to be putting on their Rockets jerseys again.

Then there are the Hornets.  Blessed with arguably the game’s best point guard, and no prospects of being relevant anytime soon, it makes perfect sense for them to turn Chris Paul’s last contractual year into the seeds for a better future.  The problem is they are trying to literally rob people blind.

The Denver Nuggets were in a similar position last season.  They knew that Carmelo Anthony would be gone at the end of the year and they didn’t want to be left empty handed like Cleveland was when LeBron left.  After months of shopping their superstar, they wound up sending Melo exactly where he wanted for a bounty of players that actually made them better.  It was a brilliant trade and worked out for both teams. 

The Hornets are mistaken, however, if they think they will have the same luck.  The Knicks were motivated to trade for Carmelo last season rather than just wait to sign him because he stood to make a lot more money as part of a sign-and-trade.  This ensured that if they traded for him, Carmelo would happily be a Knick for years to come.  Chris Paul has no such motivation.  It actually makes financial sense for CP3 to play out the season and sign a new deal next year under the new CBA.

Without the guarantee of keeping CP3 past the upcoming season, what NBA team in their right mind is going to send a package of young assets to the Hornets?  One year of Paul’s masterful point guard play makes sense to gamble on if you’re a team like the Lakers, Celtics, Knicks, Heat or Magic.  The endgame of every NBA team is to win a championship at all costs.  Danny Ainge has taught us all that.

We know you got what you wanted Carmelo, to bad David Stern said you're two buddies couldn't play together.
We know you got what you wanted Carmelo, to bad David Stern said you're two buddies couldn't play together.Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Denying the Laker trade, as horrific and unfair as it was, does actually make sense if they can get a better deal.  Historically, it would make the league look  a lot better if the asterisk next to that cancelled trade says “One week later, however, Paul was dealt to X for ___, ___, ____ and a first round pick, helping them rebuild for their future.” 

This is what everyone has had in mind the last few days as their negotiations with the Clippers heated up.  It seemed that the obvious pieces of the trade would be center, Chris Kaman and small forward Al-Farouq Aminu.  In addition the Clippers could offer young assets in shooting guard Eric Gordon and point guard Eric Bledsoe, along with the Timberwolves' 2012 unprotected first round pick.  The Clippers have long since said that Gordon is off the table in any negotiations but appeared to relent slightly this week when the realistic possibility of teaming Chris Paul with Blake Griffin began to sink again.  At this point, the league, again, became inexplicably unreasonable.  Instead of settling on a nice trade of Paul for Kaman, Aminu, Bledsoe and Minny’s first, they insisted the Clippers give them ALL of their assets.  Excuse me?

How does trading Eric Gordon, Eric Bledsoe, Aminu, Kaman and a likely top five pick for a point guard with questionable knees make sense?  Not only are you gambling that Paul’s knees don’t decline like Brandon Roy’s but you’re eliminating your team of all talent outside of him and Griffin.  A Clippers team with Paul, Gordon, Butler, Griffin and Jordan can grow together and be exciting to watch.  Even dealing Gordon but keeping Bledsoe at Minnesota’s pick gives the Clippers enough talent and assets to compete in the future.  But completely gutting a young, promising team just to bring in Chris Paul makes no sense and it’s why the Clippers walked away today.

We know this guy wouldn't mind having Chris Paul as a teammate.
We know this guy wouldn't mind having Chris Paul as a teammate.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The way the league is acting has been shocking and disturbing.  Do they really think they are going to get a better offer than the ones they already have.  Do they think Oklahoma City is going to offer Russell Westbrook and James Harden?  Do they think Minnesota is going to offer Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams and Wesley Johnson?  Do they think Miami is going to offer LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh!?  At the end of the day Chris Paul is a fantastic point guard with bum knees who would excel on a good team where he can manage the flow and do what makes him great.

If Chris Paul winds up in LA, with either the Lakers or Clippers, then maybe this was all a ploy to generate interest.  If, however, he winds up half-assing it through his last season with the Hornets trying not to get hurt then it go down as one of the worst management and leadership examples in the history of the NBA.  If the Hornets get nothing for Chris Paul, or get worse than what’s already been offered to them, I think David Stern should either resign immediately or be forced out.

David Stern has already messed up the minds of Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, Eric Gordon, Eric Bledsoe, Chris Kaman and Al-Farouq Aminu and severely damaged the cohesion of their respective teams.  The question remains: Has he severely damaged himself?