Soon after it was announced that the New Orleans Hornets would deal Chris Paul to the Lakers in a three-team deal that would have seen Lamar Odom, three players, and a first-round draft pick back to New Orleans, NBA commissioner David Stern reportedly killed the deal with little explanation.
The deal would have seen Houston, the third team in the deal, receive Pau Gasol from the Lakers and send Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, and Goran Dragic to the Hornets.
The NBA owns the Hornets, and as a result, Stern may have felt pressure from other owners not to allow the big-market Lakers to acquire perhaps the best point guard in the game. Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and sad, angry man since LeBron James left town, sent a letter to the league that lamented the ability of large market teams to acquire the best and most marketable stars in today’s Association and called the deal a “travesty.”
While it appears as though small-market owners may feel left out, the NBA’s refusal to let this deal go through could just as easily be seen as a way to protect the future of the Los Angeles Lakers as a major player in the league.
The Lakers may have gone on to regret this deal. And quickly. Gilbert’s attitude is one of many NBA insiders — that Kobe Bryant is the same player as the one who was indisputably the NBA’s best player for a few years in the mid-aughts. He’s not. At 32, his skills have declined and, while still an elite player, is not close to who he was a few years ago. Kobe Bryant may not even be the best player on his own team: he’s been challenged recently for that title by a player being shipped out in this torpedoed deal — Pau Gasol. Gasol is two years younger and has just about matched Kobe in advanced metrics like Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares. Yes, the Lakers would be getting back Chris Paul, who at his best is in the discussion for best player in the NBA, but it’s not clear this makes the Lakers better in the short-term. Paul and Gasol added similar values to their teams last year. The fact that the Lakers would also give up Lamar Odom, coming off a Sixth Man of the Year award and a surprisingly valuable player in his own right, makes it likely that the Lakers would be worse this coming season.
Chris Paul is 25 years old and is going to be one of the best players in the NBA for a long time. It may be the case that Kobe getting Paul as a running mate would encourage Kobe to take fewer shots — he attempted the most shots in the NBA last year while not being a particularly efficient scorer — and Paul’s presence would improve the play of the supporting Lakers. But the price was very, very high.
The Hornets, on the other hand, would have received a full roster overhaul, with Odom, Scola, and Martin being three legitimate NBA starters, and Dragic as a young point guard perhaps ready to take the reins — not to mention an extra first-round draft pick. This deal actually made a lot of sense for the small-market teams involved (Houston would have received Gasol), and it’s not clear the Lakers would have benefit in the short term.
The fallout has been tremendous. Chris Paul has announced that he’s not showing up to training camp and may sue the league. David Stern hasn’t offered any further explanation. The other players involved now wait with bated breath to see where they may go from here.