Friday, December 09, 2011

NBA blocking trade leaves no winners in its wake

"Somewhere, Chairman Mao is proud of David Stern."
- Brad Williams, comedian & Lakers fan

It's hard to disagree with these sentiments that have engulfed Los Angeles and the NBA realm in a conflagration of disgust and distrust. Less than a few hours after reports of a 3-team trade that would send New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers for Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol, an insurgency of NBA owners forced the hand of league commissioner David Stern to block the trade.

First, a few ground rules:

Understand that David Stern works for the owners, not anyone else. So when he makes a move to block this, it's because he must. His bosses, the other 29 owners, wanted this to happen -- at least a majority of them.

Secondly, this is the biggest problem with a league allowing itself, and thus by proxy it's other owners, to own a team. The New Orleans Hornets are a financial mess and have thus been returned to the custody of the league rather than an owner who can't pay his bills. As a result, feel free to think of the Hornets as owned by Mark Cuban, Jerry Buss, Michael Jordan, Paul Allen, Mickey Arison, and the rest of the NBA owners, each with 1/29th of a piece of the Hornets pie. Now the people in charge of the purse-strings of the organization have direct conflicts of interest as owners of competing teams.

So when David Stern axed the Chris Paul trade, they not only made a bold statement about the truth reign of terror power the league has when it owns one of its teams, but they inevitably hurt the three franchises involved, the Lakers, Hornets and the Houston Rockets.

The letter written by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert sums up exactly where the NBA owners, each owners of the New Orleans Hornets for the time being, are coming from in their rational to block the trade. Some don't want the Lakers to gain a competitive advantage. For others, it's all about the benjamins, baby:


It would be a travesty to allow the Lakers to acquire Chris Paul in the apparent trade being discussed.

This trade should go to a vote of the 29 owners of the Hornets.

Over the next three seasons this deal would save the Lakers approximately $20 million in salaries and approximately $21 million in luxury taxes. That $21 million goes to non-taxpaying teams and to fund revenue sharing.

I cannot remember ever seeing a trade where a team got by far the best player in the trade and saved over $40 million in the process. And it doesn’t appear that they would give up any draft picks, which might allow to later make a trade for Dwight Howard. (They would also get a large trade exception that would help them improve their team and/or eventually trade for Howard.) When the Lakers got Pau Gasol (at the time considered an extremely lopsided trade) they took on tens of millions in additional salary and luxury tax and they gave up a number of prospects (one in Marc Gasol who may become a max-salary player).

I just don’t see how we can allow this trade to happen.

I know the vast majority of owners feel the same way that I do.

When will we just change the name of 25 of the 30 teams to the Washington Generals?

Please advise….

Dan G.

I don't know how big a problem Gilbert would have had with this deal if LeBron James hadn't gone to Miami and thus returning his Cavaliers franchise to a small market, sad-sack destination that must once again rely on the NBA's revenue-sharing system for sustenance. Many teams rely on franchises like the Lakers or the Dallas Mavericks to overspend well beyond the cap, generating what used to be a dollar-for-dollar tax that went to help the rest of the league. But since the NBA's new CBA will institute a tax of $2.50 for every dollar spent over the cap, many teams -- including former big spenders like the Lakers or Mavs -- are looking to get under the cap before the storm hits (just look at the Mavericks opting to not bring back any of their free agents after a championship run this past summer ... more on that later).

The Lakers were trying to clear cap space, many believe in preparation for the Dwight Howard 2012 bonanza. But for 2011, the Lakers would not be a contender had this deal gone through, at least not any moreso than usual. Los Angeles was giving up Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol -- a Sixth Man of the Year and an All-Star. (Plus, they were going to get rid of one of the three Kardashians. What a great deal for the city!) But in return, they were getting a point guard who, while is certainly a great player in the NBA, hasn't proven he can be the lynchpin of a championship team.

Champions are won with big men. If the NBA really didn't want the Lakers to stack the deck and win it all, then they'd make sure Jerry Buss doesn't get within three states of Dwight Howard next summer. But this was not about preventing the Lakers from winning. It wasn't about doing what's fair for the competitive balance of the league, and it certainly wasn't done in the best interest of the team owned by the collective owners: the New Orleans Hornets, which by the way is the only reason the owners have any true right to interfere in the first place.

No. This was done for greed and self-preservation of the other 29 franchises at the expense of the Hornets.

New Orleans will lose Chris Paul in 66 games, one lockout-shortened season away. At that time, he leaves unabated into free agency and the Hornets will receive nothing in compensation. Nothing. Remember how little the Lakers gave to the Memphis Grizzlies to originally acquire Pau Gasol back in 2008? Yeah, New Orleans will get even less than that. NOTHING. The acting GM of the Hornets had an opportunity to at least gain some value, bring in some assets to the franchise for the team's only decent player. Instead, the rest of the league prevented it from happening.

How do they plan on unloading the Hornets now, exaclty?

It's unfair, it's unreasonable, and it's unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. In fact, the GM of the Hornets Dell Demps had to be talked of the ledge of wanting to resign after the league undermined what he'd worked out in -- what he felt was -- the best interest of the club. And he's probably the only one involved concerned for the true best interest of the Hornets. This from an article:

But Stern stepped in to nix the swap and leave all three teams with several shell-shocked players and officials heading into Friday's scheduled start of training camps, after the commissioner insisted for months that Hornets general manager Dell Demps and the rest of the team's front office had autonomy over basketball decisions. Sources close to the situation said Demps and teams that have pursued Paul had been assured the Hornets had the clearance to trade Paul as they saw fit.

"WoW," was Paul's reaction on Twitter.

Said Odom via his Twitter feed: "When a team trades u and it doesn't go down? Now what?"

Any time a player is traded and for whatever reason the trade doesn't go through, it's not exactly easy for that player to return to his organization, knowing he felt expendable or unwanted. The Rockets or Lakers will now open training camp today with a collection of unhappy campers rather than the teams their GMs had worked to assemble.

I realize that the Hornets, Lakers and Rockets are now in the process of appealing the league's decision to prevent this trade, but perhaps the only thing more stunning than this trade being blocked would be for the league, for Commissioner Stern to go against his employers (the owners) and reserve his decision. To do that would not only be admitting to what is a blatant atrocity against fairness and team autonomy, but it would also act as a slap to the face of the other owners Stern serves.

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