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In a move that stunned most observers, National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern blocked a trade that would've sent star point guard Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Within an hour of the Hornets striking an agreement in principle with the Lakers and Houston Rockets on a three-team trade that would have landed Paul in the same backcourt as Kobe Bryant, Stern informed the Hornets that they couldn't make the trade, stunning team officials who had been working around-the-clock for days in hopes of bringing an end to the Paul saga before the season officially started.
Amid a stream of reports that angry owners were demanding the trade be vetoed, on the same day those owners had gathered in New York to ratify a new labor pact purportedly designed to foster competitive balance and prevent small-market teams from being raided for their stars, league officials tried to dispute claims of a revolt by insisting that the decision was Stern's.
"It's not true that the owners killed the deal," NBA spokesman Mike Bass said. "The deal was never discussed at the Board of Governors meeting and the league office declined to make the trade for basketball reasons."
Yet in an email to Stern obtained by Yahoo! Sports, The New York Times and Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert called the proposed deal "a travesty" and urged Stern to put the deal to a vote of "the 29 owners of the Hornets," referring to the rest of the league's teams.
The proposed trade would have sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to the Rockets and furnished New Orleans with three top-flight NBA players in Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and Lamar Odom as well as playoff-tested guard Goran Dragic and a 2012 first-round pick that Houston had acquired from the Knicks. The general reaction among rival executives was that Hornets general manager Dell Demps did as well as he could under the circumstances after Paul told the Hornets on Monday he would not sign a contract extension this season and instead planned to become a free agent July 1, 2012.
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.
Defenders of Stern's move suggested that the deal wasn't a fair one for the Hornets and represented an example of big market teams raiding small market teams and buying up their star players, something the new labor deal was meant to prevent.
ESPN Reporter Rachel Nichols reports, however, that she is hearing grumblings that the move may have been retaliation for Paul's participation in the recent labor talks, where Paul represented the players against the owners:
Also got a couple texts from players noting that CP was only star player on union exec committee during labor talks and wondering if this was 'punishment' from owners. Some of those mtgs got pretty heated.
Paul is the big loser in the squashed trade deal, as he not only loses money, but loses control of his own destiny in terms of where he plays. He has said he will not report to training camp with New Orleans today.
Update: The full text of Dan Gilbert's complaint, taken in the context that the owners said they did not discuss the trade:
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 (considered, at the time, 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?