The Veto That Changed the NBA: How the League Would Look with Chris Paul as a Laker — Part I
Somewhere in a different world, Chris Paul is raising banners as a Laker
The trade deadline is the most giving time of year for NBA fans. Not only do contenders receive talented pieces on their way to a playoff push, but super stars are handed a new lease on life when they leave their hell hole of a franchise behind, all thanks to the teams looking to blow things up more than Tyler Durden during Project Mayhem in Fight Club. It’s a gut wrenching feeling seeing capable players leave your franchise for the prospect of a better future, but it provides one thing: hope.
Many franchises can live off of hope. Others sneer at the idea of being affiliated with such a low level of success. At one point in time, the Lakers could’ve fallen into the class of the latter. When Kobe Bryant was in town, he would’ve pegged someone with one of his numerous rings if they told him to live off hope. Well, Kobe’s long gone, and there’s no sign of the Showtime Lakers walking in the door anytime soon.
Hope is all they have.
Think about where the franchise once was. Title contention and perennial playoff berths were guaranteed. Now, Lakers fans have to watch Iggy Azalea’s ex-fiancé jack up threes while the 64 million dollar man also known as Timofey Mozgov plays 20 minutes a game. There is youth that will surely develop over time, but the Lakers has never been a franchise that builds from the ground up. They used to be able to just show up, talk about the famous season ticket holders, give them a tour of the trophy cases and call it a day. Now the Lakers have to parade around like they actually achieved something when they sign someone like Luol Deng.
You have to wonder, where did things go wrong? Where does the blame land for the three, soon to be four straight losing seasons while franchises like the Kings are still somehow relevant even with Vivek Ranadive’ throwing sticks of dynamite at his roster like he’s Wile E. Coyote. You can easily toss some blame at the Buss family who almost make the Knicks look like an attractive landing spot. The decline and departure of Kobe surely had something to do with it, as well as the idea of playing with his aging corpse which was half the player, yet still demanded the same amount of shots.
While all those factors are legitimate, many NBA fans forget one of the biggest black marks during David Stern’s reign as NBA Commissioner: the decision to veto the trade that would’ve sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, a decision that turned out to change the shape of the entire NBA.
The pre-veto world we lived in seems like a lifetime ago. Cavs fans were still burning LeBron’s jersey, Kevin Durant was the hero OKC deserved, and Derrick Rose had two working knees. Kobe and the Lakers were fresh off of getting the German blitzkrieg from Dirk and the Mavs in the playoffs on their way to an upset over the Heat to bring home to title. Right after the lockout was lifted early in December, giving basketball fans everywhere the greatest Holiday gift of all, the Lakers managed to give their fans the gift of the best point guard in the NBA.
Rockets Receive:Pau Gasol
Hornets Receive:Lamar Odom
Kevin MartinLuis Scola
Goran DragicKnicks 2012 1st Round Draft Pick (#16) -
Hindsight is 20/20, but all teams benefit from this trade, at least in some way. Yao Ming had just come off a season where he played only five games before lumbering off into retirement, so Gasol was the All-Star replacement they needed. They would’ve had a perfect pick and roll threat with then underappreciated point guard Kyle Lowry, and likely would’ve snuck into the playoffs after shortly missing it the year before.
The team formerly known as the Hornets would have received a number of halfway decent veterans which resembled a forced trade in NBA 2k, but this was more than a fair haul for what teams were typically getting in return for stars at the time. Remember, this was life before tanking. The Hornets probably would’ve been as much of a contender then as they are now, but they would have a competitive roster that could’ve put fans in the seats in return for a super star that likely wasn’t going to re-sign anyway.
Clearly, the Lakers won the deal. Even Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless would’ve had a hard time arguing this while the two were quarantined on one show before they spewed their toxic take over various programs and networks. Kobe gets paired with a terrific point guard, while still holding onto Andrew Bynum. Bynum could’ve still been flipped for Dwight, and a super team would’ve officially taken over Hollywood.
A few hours after the trade was reported, Dictator Commissioner Stern nixed the trade due to “basketball reasons”.
Just like that, the alternate universe we would know as the present was erased quicker than a knight when Mutumbo was giving everyone the finger wag. Kobe’s chance to give legitimacy to the Mamba over MJ argument was gone, while the Lakers saw David Stern steal their future from them.
It’s normally unprecedented to see the NBA to put the kibosh on the deal that would’ve helped one of the most glorified, and lucrative, franchises in the league. At the time, the Hornets were controlled by Stern and the NBA, giving them the self-appointed authority to pull the plug on the deal, leaving all involved in “NBA limbo”. The former commissioner had a pair of reasons why he would axe the would-be blockbuster deal. No matter how hard leagues try to hide it, at the end of the day, they’re a business. Business revolves around money.
When the deal went through, NBA owners were more furious than DeMarcus Cousins anytime a referee blows a whistle against him. The league had just finished agreeing to a new CBA after the lockout, which focused on keeping the league competitive. Letting one of the NBA’s premier franchises trade for the league’s best big man isn’t exactly the perfect picture of promoting competition. This set up a loser’s bracket for anyone who had the misfortune of getting in the Lakers’ way. Yes, the game isn’t played on paper and their inability to put it together could’ve ended up as a fantastic 30 for 30 someday, but for arguments sake, let’s consider the combination of one of the league’s greatest scorers, one of the league’s greatest point guards, and one of the best big men in the league at the time as a ruthlessly unfair advantage.
Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert was one owner in particular who was extremely vocal about the trade, shaking the dust off of his angry-letter parchment to write yet another letter that would soon be leaked to the media. Fresh off his “Cleveland Will Win A Title Before Miami” letter, Gilbert had the pen and paper hot and ready to go.
At the time, Gilbert was single handedly keeping the U.S Postal Service busy in Cleveland with all the rage-filled letters he was pumping out. Even though Gilbert has a point, the Washington Generals are a glorified halftime show. Comparing your team to the squad that gets stomped out by the Globetrotters every night seems like a stretch. The main point he did make, of course, revolved around the money. Not only would this deal essentially make the Lakers the Monstars, but it would actually cost small market teams who don’t pay taxes money.
On the other hand, the NBA was looking at the only owner at the time who really mattered, themselves. They were looking at this trade as sellers. The NBA was looking for some mogul to drop millions on the table to inherit the soon-to-be-Pelicans. Let’s be honest, the Hornets roster would’ve been competitive, but far from attractive. No one is heading to the arena to spend their hard earned money in order to see Kevin Martin and his bizarre shooting form jack up threes on the Hornets’ way to a moral victory. Potential buyers want young talent. The chance of a bright future is much more appealing than the impending Goran Dragic-Luis Scola pick and roll combo that would’ve taken Easy Street by storm.
Enter the NBA’s saving grace, the Los Angeles Clippers.
Clippers Receive:Chris Paul
Hornets Receive:Eric Gordon
Chris KamanAl-Farouq AminuMinnesota Timberwolves 1st Round Pick (#10)
This check offs everything on the NBA’s list. Paul goes to a team that had one playoff appearance in 14 years, the Lakers powerhouse dreams get blown up, the Hornets get a chance at a bright future with the #10 pick and Eric Gordon, and the NBA gets to dive into all the money they saved Scrooge McDuck style. While the NBA and the owners made out looking like Leo in Wolf of Wall Street, the fall out was about to rock the NBA.
The landscape of the league was then set by the ineffective play by all involved in the trade that would never be. The Lakers got bounced early in the playoffs by the Thunder, almost as a passing of the torch to the much younger trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. The Rockets failed to make the playoffs again, and New Orleans didn’t come even close to being a competitive franchise, and tied for the third-worst record in the league.
Just because the Lakers couldn’t build a super team with Chris Paul didn’t mean they were abandoning the idea altogether. They went back to the drawing board, this time coming up with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. The idea of Nash, Kobe, Ron Artest Metta World Peace Panda Friend Metta World Peace, Gasol and Howard plating together made Lakers fans begin concocting excuses why they wouldn’t be in work for the parade before the season even started. They did not even come close to their banner chasing expectations, finishing 7th in the West. Mike Brown didn’t even get the keys to the Lakers before he was canned six games into the season. The biggest issue was, as per usual, at the point guard position. Nash’s corpse was not even close to the playmaker that racked up multiple MVPs in Phoenix. Without a distributor, one ball wasn’t even close to enough for Kobe and Dwight.
The Rockets on the other hand, stumbled upon a bearded gold mine. After falling short in the finals to the Heattles, the Thunder began shopping the third banana of their trio, James Harden. When the two sides couldn’t agree to a reasonable extension, the Rockets received Harden in one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history. Houston got a perennial All NBA scorer in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and two draft picks that turned into Steven Adams and Mitch McGary. That’s right, the treasure chest of assets that was one season of Kevin Martin, three unproductive seasons of Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams, and the great Mitch McGary was traded for The Beard.
It doesn’t take an ESPN Insider to tell you the deal the Hornets/Pelicans would’ve received from Houston and LA was leaps and bounds better than the one they received from the Clippers, at least for the time being. The combination of Lamar Odom, a talented young point guard in Dragic, a space creater in Martin, and a serviceable big man in Scola would have at least put the Hornets in a position to fight for a playoff spot. As we now know, the brutality that was the 2011–2012 season for New Orleans helped them “win” the NBA lottery.
There’s no arguing that the NBA lottery is a crapshoot, but it’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room. The year the NBA stopped the Hornets deal and sentenced them to the cellar of the Western Conference, the team that just so happened to own the Hornets won the chance to draft the best prospect since King James, Anthony Davis. It was the best inside job since Whitey Bulger controlled the Boston FBI and the underworld at the same time.
As you could’ve guessed through this NBA themed butterfly effect, the dominoes continued to crash around almost each and every franchise in the NBA, but most noticeably with those involved in the original deal. The Hornets continued to tank, Kobe and Dwight Howard spent an entire season trading catty insults until Howard took the first chance he got to team up with the Bearded Assasin in Houston, setting up the Lakers for the worst stretch in franchise history.
The million dollar question is, what if?