In an interview with Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated published Wednesday, Stern was asked about the failed trade of Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers. The former commish admitted he "didn't do a great job of explaining [his decision to veto the deal] at the time":
"[Demps] had agreed to [trade Paul to the Lakers for] Kevin Martin and Luis Scola or something, and I said we can do better than that... And the next trade was [to the L.A. Clippers for] Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu and what we thought was a really great draft pick, the 10th pick, which turned out to be Austin Rivers. At least those three and someone else [center Chris Kaman]. But Dell Demps is a lousy general manager and none of those players are currently with the team anymore, and he may lose Anthony Davis."
The Pelicans released a statement in response to Stern's comments:
Stern was operating as the de facto owner of the then-New Orleans Hornets during the Paul controversy, and he told Ballard that Demps attempted to overstep his bounds by telling other general managers he had "authority to [make a blockbuster Paul trade] and he didn't."
"I did it because I was protecting the then-Hornets.. ... To this day everyone always asks me, 'Well why did you keep Chris Paul from going to the Lakers?' I didn't keep him. I didn't approve the trade," Stern said.
He told SI the situation is different from people wanting current Commissioner Adam Silver to prevent the already-stacked Golden State Warriors from making marquee additions. The offseason's free-agent signing of DeMarcus Cousins drew such criticism, but Stern says the difference is that he was handling ownership duties throughout the Paul saga.
"Then the great unwashed Twitter says, 'Adam Silver should be like Stern and stop him from going,'" Stern said. "Oh, OK, guys, that's great! Right? That's ridiculous. Step up, strap on a set. It's stupid."
Paul ended up spending six seasons with the Clippers before getting traded to the Houston Rockets in June 2017. He ranks fourth in the NBA in win shares since the vetoed deal to the Lakers in 2011, behind only Kevin Durant, James Harden and new Lakers superstar LeBron James, per Basketball Reference.
James' decision to leave the Cavs to form a superteam with the Miami Heat in 2010 was likely a greater factor in the change in player movement around the league than the trade of Paul, but it definitely had an impact on the Lakers.
L.A., which won back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010, has now missed the playoffs in five straight seasons. Landing James to go along with a budding core of young players should get the franchise back on track and leave the Paul drama in the rear-view mirror for good, though.