Friday, December 9, 2011

The Blockbuster That Wasn't

From time to time, events in the world of pro hoops (I’m sure it happens in all other walks too) conspire to trigger a deluge of response for which the internet was seemingly created. Yesterday epitomized this.

During my lunch hour, rumors of the Knicks Dolin’ out near-max money for Tyson Chandler in hopes of luring Chris Paul to Manhattan dominated the conversation. In the early evening, as I prepared to go out to dinner, I was struck by the euphoric jolt of “Chris Paul to the Lakers.” Dinner, at a local all-you-can-eat/drink sushi spot, was when the bubble burst, as first my brother in law, and then Twitter, informed me that a well-past-his-prime dictator, with the prodding of a whiny narcissist whose considerable fortune was paid for (at least in part) with the sweat of foreclosed one-time homeowners, had blocked the deal. Suffice it to say, my wife was NOT happy about this hijacking of our meal, as I continued to consume copious amounts of sake, though no longer in a celebratory mood.

At about 1:00 am, fueled by prepaid booze and the collective rage of the NBA masses, and moments from finding myself in central booking at “Twitter jail,” I elected to throw caution to the wind and pump out a sake-soaked tirade. Upon recognizing that I’d be unable to do so without veering wildly into the “dark place,” I shelved the idea. Fortunately, at that point fellow Laker fan and Twitterer J. Dana Teague (@teaguejd) mentioned that the events of the evening had compelled him to put some thoughts on paper. I invited him to share them here:

Last night the Lakers traded for Chris Paul. That's what should have happened. A 3-team deal was agreed upon by the Rockets, Lakers, and Hornets. The Lakers gave up Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol in return for Chris Paul and either Emeka Okafor or a TPE. The Hornets got Odom, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin and Goran Dragic from Houston, and draft picks, which isn't at all a bad haul, and can be traded to other teams for young talent/more picks. The Rockets got Gasol, dropped $3.5 million below the salary cap and were in position to make a play for Nene.

Was it the best deal the Hornets could have gotten? No. A trade with the Clippers, Warriors or Magic would have made more sense. Was it a fleece job on the scale of the Miami sign-and-trade for Chris Bosh or (at the time) the Lakers' 2008 trade for Gasol? Not in the slightest. Chris Paul wasn't necessarily the best fit in LA, and it would have gutted the Lakers roster. I'd rather they trade for Dwight Howard, or flip Gasol for a similar package to the one the Rockets were sending to New Orleans.

Plus, the Lakers gave up their only useful power forwards (both very good), and effectively stripped themselves of their greatest strength, their vaunted front court. They tied their fate to 3 players who have problematic knees, during a compressed season. Gambling on Andrew Bynum, Kobe Bryant, and Chris Paul to play effectively through a schedule as brutal as this season’s is a HUGE risk, and was no guarantee of a title. It was a ballsy move, similar to the one Otis Smith made last season by trading for Gilbert Arenas. One last swing for the fences. 

Then, the hammer fell, as David Stern blocked the trade for "basketball reasons." As the evening rolled on ridiculous story after ridiculous story came out. First the news that the owners had pushed, but that it was Stern who had made the final decision to veto the trade. Then the revelation that Demps had attempted to resign, and had to be talked out of it. The crowning piece was a leaked email from Dan Gilbert, which displayed not only his immense immaturity, but a complete lack of understanding of how the system in which he owns a team works.

Now, I'm not saying that Stern didn't have the authority to block the trade, as he absolutely did. My problem is why the trade was blocked. From the rumors currently floating around, one of the main reasons the trade was blocked was fear of a potential trade of Bynum and the TPE or Okafor for Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu. It's one thing to block a trade for being patently one-sided (which this one wasn't), but to block it for fear of a trade that hasn't even happened, and doesn’t even exist? That's just absurd.

Now, assuming the previous rumor wasn't true (which is quite possible), what Stern did was still indefensible. Demps had been assured since day 1 that he had the authority to run the Hornets as he saw fit. Every indication points to the fact that he was as blindsided by the block as everyone else. By blocking this deal, the league set a precedent in which no team will be allowed to trade for Paul, and made a mockery of the authority which it had supposedly instilled in Demps. This means that Paul walks after this season, and the Hornets end up with nothing. Even if this wasn't the best deal the Hornets were offered, blocking it turned it into the last deal they are ever going to get. The league had other options. They could have suggested ways to make the deal acceptable. They didn't. All reports indicate that the league simply told the Lakers "No", and hung up.

Fans freaked out. At least from my timeline (which is all hardcore fans, bloggers, players, and journos), the reaction was about as anti-block as it could be. Almost every Hornets blogger/fan I follow found themselves arguing in favor of trading Chris Paul to L.A., if only to avoid him walking away in free agency in exchange for nothing. Lakers fans started spewing vitriol. There are doubts the trade would have been blocked had it been to a mediocre team like the Timberwolves or (sorry Ben!) the Bobcats. It was viewed as a move purely to spite the Lakers, whether by the league to preserve the illusion of competitive balance, or by the small market owners, to "stick it to the man."

As for me? I just laughed. What else could I do? It had been a long day, and all in all, things turned out all right for the Lakers, but this was just more shenanigans from an increasingly dysfunctional league.

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