On December 8th, 2011, the NBA hit rock bottom.
Since the NBA purchased the New Orleans Hornets, final responsibility for significant management decisions lies with the Commissioner's Office in consultation with team chairman Jac Sperling. All decisions are made on the basis of what is in the best interests of the Hornets.
In the case of the trade proposal that was made to the Hornets for Chris Paul, we decided, free from the influence of other NBA owners, that the team was better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade.
The fact that a commissioner can step in and nix a trade is alarming. Stern should have held his ground when confronted with various owners claiming the trade was unfair. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban summed up the collective frustration of NBA owners nicely:
We just had a lockout, and one of the goals of the lockout was to say that small-market teams now have a chance to keep their players, and the rules were designed to give them that opportunity.
The fear of smaller market teams not being able to keep players is irrational. Small-market teams will keep players if they build around them correctly. LeBron James wouldn't have left Cleveland if management had surrounded him with talent. It's the same reason Paul wants out. Dwight Howard wants out if Orlando management can't build around him properly.
It's hard to fault players for horrendous management. The disparity between small- and large-market teams is simply management.
Paul didn’t want to go to L.A. for the market, he wanted to go there to be a Laker. Benefits there include being part of a historic franchise, following in the footsteps of the legends who have played there, seeing Jack Nicholson and various celebrities on the sidelines, and having a passionate fan base.
Clearly the owners who fear this “big-market advantage” need a history lesson.
Look at the trade itself. By all measures, it was a very fair offer. New Orleans was going to receive an emerging star in Luis Scola, a great scoring guard in Kevin Martin, a veteran forward who can play multiple positions in Lamar Odom, a score-first upcoming point guard in Goran Dragic and a 2012 first-round pick.
Not bad for a team that would get nothing in return when Chris Paul left via free agency. Losing a franchise player is tough, but rebuilding through a great trade is something the Hornets have now been robbed of thanks to David Stern.
To make matters worse for Stern, the trade wasn’t that good for the Lakers. Sure, they would get a once-in-a-generation player in Paul. However, they would also lose the second-best center in the league by shipping Pau Gasol to Houston.
More pressure than ever would be placed on Andrew Bynum, who was last seen throwing a cheap shot and walking off the court half-naked. The departure of Odom would kill the incredible depth of the team.
That's not to mention injuries: Paul is on an iffy knee, and Kobe Bryant is on old knees. It’s hard to say how Bryant and Paul would have played together.
David Stern didn’t do what was best for the league, or the Hornets. The Lakers now have to deal with an emotional Gasol and Odom. Houston has to attempt to make Martin and Scola happy again.
Heck, Stern just hurt the Celtics. Rajon Rondo can’t be too happy his general manager tried to ship him off in exchange for Chris Paul.
But most of all, Stern screwed the Hornets. The Hornets—the team he is supposedly attempting to help—is now in professional basketball purgatory. It is near-impossible for the team to move Paul through trade now. Paul will leave in seven months, and the Hornets will have nothing to show for it.
Also take into account how this impacts the Dwight Howard saga. If he truly wants to be traded to the New Jersey Nets, doesn’t Stern have to step in and block that trade as well?
Stern has done some amazing things during his time as commissioner. Since taking over, 28 new arenas have been built, seven new teams have been created, the NBA Dress Code changed the league forever and, most importantly, Stern has guided the league through four lockouts.
It hasn’t been a flawless run for Stern either. There was the alleged fixing of the 1985 draft. There was the controversial relocation of the Seattle SuperSonics. Most notably, there was referee Tim Donaghy. Donaghy admitted to betting on games he officiated, and even made calls to affect the point spreads.
But the blocking of the Chris Paul trade is worse than all of that. Stern has lost control of his own league. He has set a dangerous precedent for trades. He doesn’t have the same respect from owners around the league like he used to. His influence is fading, and this seems to be a desperate attempt to hold on to any remaining power he has.
It has to end. The 27 years of ups and downs with Stern is enough. This is the proverbial “straw that broke the camel's back.”
One thing’s for sure: This has been, and will be, the craziest month in NBA history. But this event, this day, is the one that will be remembered the most.
On December 8th, 2011, the NBA hit rock bottom.