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Shaun Powell

Chris Paul, a free agent after the season, has shown interest in going to New York or L.A.
Chris Paul, a free agent after the season, has shown interest in going to New York or L.A.
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

League was put in tough situation with Paul-to-Lakers trade


Posted Dec 8 2011 11:28PM - Updated Dec 9 2011 9:15AM

It had to be a first in professional team sports: A trade that everyone agreed was in the best interest of all involved -- everyone, that is, except the supposedly hands-off owners of the one team central to it all.

Considering that the owners of that team, the New Orleans Hornets, happen to be the other 29 NBA owners -- a terrible, untenable position the owners hoisted on themselves -- this was never going to end well.

And so, Chris Paul to the Lakers is off, because the league was backed into a severe conflict-of-interest corner and therefore ended up putting what amounts to a "can't-touch-this" franchise tag on Paul.

According to the NBA office, the league killed the deal "for basketball reasons." But the conspiracy theories are already flying, with word the owners feared a trade that not only gifted the Lakers another star and made them attractive enough to entice Dwight Howard next summer, but also hurt some small-market teams by possibly costing them revenue sharing money that would have otherwise come from the Lakers. Unquestionably, the veto angered many owners and the principles involved in the trade; namely, Hornets general manager Dell Demps and Paul himself, who looked forward to throwing passes to Kobe Bryant and now threatens to take legal action.

(Good luck with that. David Stern didn't block Paul from going to L.A. as a free agent; he blocked a trade. Big difference. No "rights" were violated.)

One of the main points missed in this erupting story was this: The Hornets shouldn't have been given the green light to hold talks for Paul in the first place. A deal of this magnitude needs to be decided by the next owner, whomever that might be. In a league driven by stars, Paul means that much to the New Orleans franchise. His presence (or subtraction) directly affects the value of the franchise.

The trade, on its surface, was not terrible. The Hornets did well to get Luis Scola and Kevin Martin and picks. In any trade, the Hornets were not going to get fair value for a player like Paul.

Beyond that, though, the trade was troublesome on many levels. Mainly, without Paul, the league would have had a hard time finding a fair price for the Hornets.

The trade could've triggered all sorts of other problems. The owners undoubtedly feared Dwight Howard would pull a Shaq Part II and bolt Orlando for Hollywood to join CP3 and Kobe. This is exactly the Miami Heat-like scenario the owners didn't want to see repeated.

It would have confirmed, in many people's minds, that the league is controlled by A-list free agents who'll always hold their teams hostage prior to reaching free agency.

And, yes, Paul was going to the Lakers, fueling the belief the NBA is hell-bent on keeping its cash cow nice and plump, especially in a recession and particularly in the post-lockout period. That perception would not have been good for the league.

Had the trade gone through, the league would've had to wrestle with being hypocrites in the aftermath of the lockout. Was the talk of parity during the lockout just lip service by the owners?

(Achieving true parity always has been more fantasy than reality. A number of big-market teams simply have better advantages. Their owners tend to be richer and fan bases more demanding and therefore those teams will do whatever it takes. The small-market teams can charge only so much for season tickets -- how many wealthy people are there in New Orleans compared to Boston, anyway? -- and only receive so much from radio and local TV. Memphis can't compete with the gazillion-dollar TV deal the Lakers just inked. It's a fact.

The reality is that the NBA, while trying to make it harder in some ways for big-market teams to capture all the talent, is largely powerless in other ways to prevent it.)

The Paul trade would've been a PR smash in one respect: A glamour team getting a fresh coat of glitter, which always goes over well on TV. Los Angeles was fine with it, and the ratings for the Bulls-Lakers opener (CP3! Kobe! D-Rose!) would've jumped higher than Jack Nicholson from his courtside seat. The league is always better off with healthy teams in L.A. and New York and Chicago.

But this trade was a shotgun arrangement, a dubious idea from the start. Paul wasn't planning to re-sign with New Orleans. The Hornets were stuck between holding him for nothing or trading him for something. And so the league was put in a tough and uncomfortable spot.

The league didn't fail when it killed the Chris Paul deal. The league failed because it still hasn't dumped the Hornets on someone else to deal with a superstar who wants to move on.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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