As Long As Lakers Are Terrible, Scars from the Chris Paul Trade Veto Remain

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterDecember 11, 2015

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 04:  Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers keeps his dribble away from Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 107-102 Clipper win at Staples Center on January 4, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Want to piss off a Los Angeles Lakers fan? Or perhaps you'd like to make one of them cry, curse loudly or stare blankly into the abyss. Just say these two words:

"Basketball reasons."

Those were the words used to explain the NBA's controversial rationale for nixing a 2011 trade that would've sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to the Houston Rockets and Lamar Odom, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a 2012 first-round pick to the-then New Orleans Hornets.

As Vice Sports' Bethlehem Shoals explained, then-commissioner David Stern's veto, while stunning in many ways, was in the best interest of a league lacking parity, in the wake of a five-month lockout intended (in part) to curb superstar consolidation:

Anyone can mash together All-Stars and win some games. It's far more difficult to build a team that drums up interest in the sport. This was Stern's vision for the NBA and while he may have...robbed us of some transcendent basketball in Los Angeles—and been a total assh--e about it—it's hard to argue with the results.

Unless, of course, you're one of countless Lakers fans still smarting over that decision and the damage it's wrought to the Purple and Gold.

These are fans who have witnessed Steve Nash crumble under the weight of injuries in L.A. They've watched Dwight Howard, the presumptive "Next Lakers Cornerstone," fumble the torch. They've seen Kobe Bryant's Achilles tendon snap, Gasol relocate to Chicago and Odom's life spiral out of control again.

They've endured the second-worst season in franchise history (27-55) in 2013-14, followed by the worst (21-61) in 2014-15 and now what could be even worse (3-19 so far) in 2015-16.

The longer the losing persists in Lakerland, the longer the sting of the vetoed trade remains.

So Close, So Far

Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

It doesn't help that Paul's locker is just down the hall from where it would've been. Instead of suiting up for the late Dr. Jerry Buss' squad, the All-Star point guard landed with Donald Sterling's Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman and the pick that became Austin Rivers.

With Paul leading the way, the Clippers have enjoyed unprecedented success. After going their entire existence without a 50-win season, dating back to the franchise's Buffalo Braves days, they've won at least 56 games in each of the past three campaigns. Their string of four straight playoff appearances is the longest in franchise history.

The Lakers, on the other hand, have all but punched their ticket to the team's first-ever three-year postseason drought.

Of course, there's no guarantee that Paul, who in 10 full pro seasons hasn't reached a conference finals, would've fared much better as a Laker. The franchise might have still traded for Howard but wouldn't have kept Howard from butting heads with Bryant.

Nor is there any guarantee that, even with a guard like Paul to run the offense and ease his burden, Bryant's body wouldn't have broken under the strain of 50,000 NBA minutes.

And who's to say Bryant and Paul, two ball-dominant alpha dogs, would've gotten along perfectly on the court?

As Paul told ESPN of his 2008 Olympic partnership with Bryant, "We both want to win so badly. It's one of those things where as great a relationship as we have, as long as we're playing on the same court against each other, we're always going to get into it, you know what I mean? That's the respect factor, because you know that he wants it just as bad as I do."

Still Not Over It

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 7:  (L to R) Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant of the USA Men's National Team laugh during training camp on July 7, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photog
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

It's easy to lament what might've been for the Lakers. Bryant did during his sitdown with Chuck Klosterman for GQ this past February:

Even with those restrictions, the Lakers pulled off a trade [for Chris Paul] that immediately set us up for a championship, a run of championships later, and which saved money. Now, the NBA vetoed that trade. But the Lakers pulled that s--t off, and no one would have thought it was even possible. The trade got vetoed, because they’d just staged the whole lockout to restrict the Lakers. Mitch [Kupchak] got penalized for being smart. But if we could do that...

...then what else might the Lakers have managed to swing?

Instead, they're left to slog through a sorry farewell tour for the Black Mamba while three talented youngsters—Julius Randle, D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson—attempt to learn on the fly.

Perhaps their young core will be able to work through its collective growing pains this season in preparation for a quantum leap forward in 2016-17. In the interim, their futility will afford the Lakers a shot to retain their top-three-protected first-round pick in the 2016 NBA draft.

But that pick, which the team dealt to the Phoenix Suns in July 2012 as part of the Nash trade, would probably still belong to the Lakers outright if Paul were on board. And L.A. wouldn't be in a position—or feel any need—to "tank" with a prime-aged star like Paul to point the way.

As for free agency, how many of the stars available in recent summers would've realistically passed on a chance to team up with Paul in L.A.? Would Carmelo Anthony have signed to play with two of his closest NBA friends, Paul and Bryant, in the summer of 2014? Would the Lakers have had more substance to pitch to LaMarcus Aldridge—beyond glitz, glamour and marketing opportunities—this past summer?

However long the Lakers' current doldrums last, these and other questions will continue to plague the team as much as those two infamous words ever did.

Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.

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