Idiotic. Absolutely nuts. Never seen anything like it.
Those were some of the words greeting National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern on what was supposed to be the first day in a decade of labor peace, marked by the return of happy-to-be-back players in training camp after a five-month lockout.
Instead, Stern and other officials were lambasted today after they rejected the trade of Chris Paul, 26, to the Los Angeles Lakers from the league-owned New Orleans Hornets, a move in which the NBA cited unspecific basketball reasons.
“This is absolutely nuts,” said Steve Kerr, a former Phoenix Suns general manager now an NBA analyst with TNT. “It’s idiotic.”
For Paul, a four-time All-Star who’s scheduled to become a free agent after this season, the Hornets would have received Lakers forward Lamar Odom, last season’s Sixth Man of the Year, as well as guards Kevin Martin and Goran Dragic, forward Luis Scola and a first-round draft pick from Houston. The Rockets would have gotten Pau Gasol from the Lakers.
Gasol’s departure from Los Angeles would have created a vacancy in the front court that may have been filled by 26-year- old Dwight Howard, an Orlando Magic All-Star who, like Paul, is set for free agency after this season.
“From the Hornets perspective, this one is one of the best basketball trades we’ve seen in years,” Kerr said in a telephone interview.
He noted how hard it is for a general manager to get equal value when trading any player, let alone a superstar, when his contract is about to expire.
“You can’t argue this isn’t a fair trade basketball- wise,” Kerr said. “You just can’t.”
The NBA didn’t say who advised Stern on whether the trade, from a purely basketball perspective, made sense.
“I don’t want to speak on the basketball side, but that particular one was weighed against Chris Paul’s continued presence in New Orleans, which was deemed preferable,” Stern said this morning in a brief interview at league headquarters in New York, where the new labor accord was signed.
Among the principal reasons for the lockout, Stern said many times, was creating an agreement that would foster competitive balance by making it easier for small-market, lower- revenue clubs to retain and attract star players.
The previous contract expired after LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, where the two-time Most Valuable player teamed with fellow All-Stars Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Paul joked at Carmelo Anthony’s wedding about creating a Miami-like super team with the New York Knicks.
Dan Gilbert of the Cavaliers was among the owners who pushed Stern to nix the Paul trade, calling the proposed swap a “travesty” in an e-mail to the commissioner that was shared with Bloomberg News.
Gilbert called for the trade to be voted on by the league’s 29 owners.
“When will we just change the name of 25 of the 30 teams to the Washington Generals,” he wrote, referring to the team that always loses to the Harlem Globetrotters.
Owner Les Alexander of the Rockets and Mark Cuban of the defending-champion Dallas Mavericks declined in e-mails to comment on the Paul trade case. Cuban usually is one of the more outspoken NBA owners.
Stern, in a statement today, said his decision wasn’t influenced by league owners.
Billy Hunter, executive director of the players’ association, said in an interview today that he’s waiting to hear from Paul before deciding how to proceed. Paul didn’t return an e-mail seeking comment on the trade nullification.
Steve Mills, a former Madison Square Garden (MSG) executive who represented the Knicks during the 1998-99 labor talks, said he’s never seen anything like a league rejecting a trade made by a team that it owns.
“It’s such a unique situation,” he said in a telephone interview, noting that, from a basketball perspective, the Hornets looked like they did OK. “Preferably, this would’ve never happened.”
Russ Granik, who spent 1990 to 2006 as Stern’s top lieutenant, says the league’s position that this was a basketball decision should be accepted.
He compared the situation to the 1975 trade of eventual Hall-of-Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers from the Milwaukee Bucks, who got four players in return.
“You’re getting lots of pieces,” Granik said in a telephone interview. “It’s hard to replace a superstar with pieces.”
Paul’s presence has no effect on the Hornets’ value to a potential buyer from a business standpoint, said Sal Galatioto, founder of New York-based Galatioto Sports Partners, which has sold NBA teams including the Philadelphia 76ers, Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns.
“Nobody buys a team because of players,” Galatioto said in a telephone interview. “Players come and go.”
Kerr, who played on Chicago Bulls championship teams alongside Michael Jordan, said labor contracts can’t legislate competitive balance. Power in the league, he said, has to do with drafting well, free agency and market attractiveness.
“I guess now they’ll talk about league ownership of the team,” he said. “It’s the biggest conflict of interest of all time, and one that’s opened up a huge can of worms.”
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