Sunday, December 11, 2011

3 comments Yea, About That Trade...

At this point, most everyone has heard about the Chris Paul trade to the Los Angeles Lakers being rescinded, vetoed, canceled or not approved. Whatever happened and whatever you want to call it. Now we've had a few days to cool down and let the thrashing of David Stern and the NBA subside a bit from the mainstream media, I thought I would look at the trade a bit. If anyone isn't aware this is a summary of what happened.

The three teams are currently working on a new deal which they hope will meet the approval of the NBA and the other owners. Hopefully they haven't agreed to a new deal by the team I have posted this, but that's the risk I take in not writing a knee-jerk reaction column on Friday. One of the biggest lessons we can learn from this is the only group of people who thought the lockout would change everything were the owners. Fans knew owners would still be greedy, would still spend money on players in a bad way (Caron Butler 3 years $24 million to block Al-Farouq Aminu from ever getting good minutes), and superstar players are going to end up playing for the teams they want to play for. I can't blame some of the owners for wanting to keep superstars out of large markets. This seems like something small market owners would see as beneficial to their team. My problem lies in the NBA's complicity with this goal. I am not sure the NBA should in any way have a say on what team a player should end up playing.

There are quite a few issues present here. The main issue I see as present is the NBA should never own an NBA team. I understand how the NBA ended up with control of the Hornets (thanks again for nothing George Shinn...even being absent from the NBA you manage to help screw something NBA-related up), but it simply doesn't make sense for the NBA to own a team that makes up a part of that association. It's a clear conflict of interest when the NBA has to look at what is best for the NBA and best for the Hornets. Those two positions can't always be reconciled easily. This is one of those times. Fully knowing this doesn't make sense and the obvious conflicts it causes, it is clear nothing was discussed among the owners about what would happen in a situation where the Hornets wanted to trade a player. How frustrating.

This lack of foresight helped cause this situation in my opinion. It is not like the Hornets or Chris Paul just sprung a trade demand on the NBA. It has been clear for a while now Paul wasn't going to sign with the Hornets after this season or he wanted to be traded. The Carmelo Anthony situation in Denver last year should have started discussions among the NBA with the Hornets on what would happen if the Hornets tried to trade Paul to receive some value for him. Quite frankly, at some point this conflict of interest where NBA owners are also owners of the Hornets needed to be clarified and discussed prior to an actual trade going down. It's a terrible lack of foresight that unfortunately isn't only limited to the NBA, but seems to be prevalent of late in the NBA.

What concerns me the most is what David Stern and the owners were trying to accomplish with blocking this trade...other than maintaining their own power of course. This trade veto (we will call it that) wasn't about whether the trade was fair or not, which it undoubtedly was fair. I would even argue the Lakers didn't even get the best end of the deal and the trade could help set the Hornets up to possibly contend for a playoff spot, while ensuring future flexibility. I don't believe this was unrealistic. They got some good pieces (older pieces, granted) which could be used to keep together for a year or two or these pieces could be traded to a contender later in the year NBA year. We'll get to more of that in a minute. This trade veto was about other owners not liking that Chris Paul was going to the Lakers, a large market team, and they felt it violated the principles of the "focus on the small market" CBA the owners had agreed to. What's interesting to me is the owners are the only ones who looked at the new CBA as a way of preventing superstar players from going to large markets. I think everyone else reasonably knew this trend wasn't going to just stop based on a new CBA. Chris Paul isn't going to suddenly love New Orleans because of the new CBA and Dwight Howard isn't going to want to play for the Magic due to the new CBA. The rules may have changed a bit, but I don't know if you can change the player's wishes for their playing career with a new bargaining agreement. I get the feeling part of the owner's minds thought the landscape of the NBA would change drastically and I'm not sure that is realistic.

The owners thought they as owners of NBA teams could continue to do what was best for their teams, but the players may not do what they considered best for them as players.

When Dan Gilbert writes a letter wanting the trade vetoed, he was doing what was best for his team now and in the future. He didn't care about the Hornets or how this trade affected them. That's how it should be, so I while will call him a jackass, I would expect him to do what is best for the Cleveland Cavaliers. I don't believe David Stern and the NBA should be doing what is best for one team at the expense of another team in this circumstance. This letter from Gilbert also shows how the NBA owners are refusing to face reality. Realistically, most players want to go to large markets. Holding players back from doing that or creating a bullshit reason to veto a trade isn't going to stop that from happening. Chris Paul is going to leave in free agency and the Hornets may get nothing for him after this season is complete if a trade isn't completed prior to that point.

Gilbert, who is still stinging from losing LeBron James if I had to guess, even wrote some revisionist history in his letter:

When the Lakers got Pau Gasol (at the time considered 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).

This is crap. At the time of the Pau Gasol trade it was seen as a heist for the Lakers and Marc Gasol was a player acquired based on potential and the Grizzlies were only getting his draft rights. It was considered a heist for the Lakers and regardless of what Marc Gasol turned into during 2010-2011 the trade was seen as a heist at the time. What the trade eventually was seen as is irrelevant because AT THE TIME OF THE TRADE Marc Gasol was a simple throw-in for the Grizzlies. Gilbert is misleadingly comparing a trade being evaluated three years after the trade to the initial reaction to the Paul trade. If the Pau Gasol trade happened in 2011, it would have been vetoed by the owners just like this Paul trade was vetoed.

Gilbert finishes by saying "I don't see how we can allow this trade to happen." I do. It was a fair trade and simply because you don't like a large market team received a superstar from a small market team in a trade doesn't make the trade any less fair. I don't particularly like the Lakers, in fact I really don't like them. The Lakers don't sit back and wait for something to happen and hope to God it all works out for them. They are aggressive and make moves to improve the team. The current climate of the NBA is that players want to go to large market teams. I'm not upset the Lakers don't get Paul. I am upset the NBA owners were able to take advantage of a huge conflict of interest and turn it to their advantage in some vain attempt to level the playing field. Do you know what really levels the playing field? Smart personnel decision-making and putting a good team around your star players to entice them not to leave. Ask the Oklahoma City Thunder or the San Antonio Spurs. I'm not convince the Paul trade (without a Dwight Howard trade to the Lakers following) would have improved the team that much. The Lakers would have been an improved team, but I think to be on par with the elite teams in the Western Conference they would have needed Howard along with Paul.

Dan Gilbert and the NBA owners want a level playing field. Are they really that naive to believe when they signed the CBA it would help level the playing field? All of a sudden star players would want to go to small-er market teams like the Cavaliers and play for an organization that kept LeBron James happy by surrounding him with a washed-up Shaq, Mo Williams, and Antawn Jamison? I have nothing against the Cavs and I am not completely happy about the migration of superstar players to large market teams. It's the state of the NBA. Regardless of what you thought about "The Decision," what was really keeping LeBron in Cleveland besides goodwill towards the Cavs? If Dan Gilbert wants to level the playing field, draft well and put a good team on the court. Let the Lakers tie tons of money into Chris Paul and Dwight Howard and build a quality team in Cleveland through the draft and smart trades.

It frustrates me the NBA owners can use a conflict of interest in owning the Hornets to (try and) change the balance of the league the way they would like because they don't want the Lakers, Rockets and Hornets to make a trade that will change the balance of the league in a way they don't like. Their attitude is if the NBA is going to have a change in balance, it won't be natural, but forced upon the players. Yeah, that will work. All that's left now is figure out a way to eliminate free agency, because Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, and Deron Williams are gone from their respective teams once they hit free agency if they don't want to be there. I think this is a fact of NBA life right now the owners can't get around. Of course, there is a part of me that doesn't completely blame the owners. They are only going to do what they can get away with doing.

Now for David Stern. In my perfect world, Stern would read Gilbert's letter and say, "I get it. This isn't the balanced marketplace you were looking for when agreeing to the CBA. I don't like the implications of this trade, but we can't use the advantage contained in the NBA's ownership of the Hornets to dictate where players go. We can, but we shouldn't."

Of course, that is my perfect world reaction by Stern and it may not realistic. By agreeing to block or veto this trade, David Stern has made it clear he works for the owners (which he does) and that overrides what is best for the NBA. There can be an argument made by some the Paul trade isn't good for the NBA because the rich (Lakers) get richer, but I think this is short-sighted. This trade was also about the Hornets getting value for their best player and avoiding a season-long issue. No one forced each respective team to make the trade. I believe what is best for the NBA is for David Stern to not step in and block a trade he doesn't like. If the NBA is going to have an obvious conflict of interest in owning the Hornets, the least they could is not flaunt this conflict of interest.

David Stern and the owners aren't ruining the NBA. They are opening the NBA up to lawsuits and terrible PR for a league that doesn't need terrible PR right now. I dislike this move on so many levels. I don't like the NBA, even though they "own" the Hornets, to block any trade the Hornets are trying to make. I think the NBA should be an owner in name-only and allow Hornets GM Dell Demps to make trades as he sees fit. I dislike the move because the NBA not only blocked a trade, but they blocked a trade that would have improved the Hornets and sent a player to a large market team the NBA didn't want to go to a large market team. They acted as if they have or should have control over where a player goes. The NBA is concerned with a level playing field and if there isn't a level playing field, dammit, they will create one.

One of the most interesting parts of this story to me is whether Chris Paul has legal recourse or not. I really doubt Chris Paul will sue the NBA, but at this point there isn't any way the NBA can allow Paul to be traded. I know there are rumors the Rockets, Lakers and Hornets are going to reconfigure the trade. I am a bit torn on this. I don't want the implication being the NBA gets to decide the terms of the "perfect" deal for Chris Paul. For me, the damage has been done. Any trade that is made at this point for Paul makes it seem like the NBA is dictating to Dell Demps where Hornets players can go. I realize the NBA owns the Hornets, but the conflict the NBA has by owning the Hornets while also having a long-term vision for where superstars should play, makes me think they should allow Dell Demps to trade players as he sees fit.

Any Chris Paul trade would be seen as the NBA manipulating where its star players play basketball. A part of me thinks at this point as long as the NBA owns the team, Chris Paul should stay a Hornet, but I know if a good trade is proposed and the league approves the trade it should probably go through. Of course, what if Paul never gets traded? This brings up the question of whether Paul has any recourse to recover lost money had the trade gone through or not. I don't believe it will ever come to this, but Paul could seek legal recourse. So by adhering to the owner's wishes, David Stern has possibly ensured Paul wouldn't get traded and the Hornets may not get value for him.

As far as the trade goes, I think it was a pretty fair trade. The Big Lead asked if this was the best trade being offered and it may not have been. The speculated Clippers trade could have improved the Hornets in the short-term, but again, this is only a speculated trade and I'm not sure if this offer is true or not. Let's look at the trade we know would have been made and how it would have affected the Hornets (I will cut and paste from the Big Lead article since they have all the information I care about right there and did a great job of getting the information together):

Kevin Martin, age 28: $12,019,840 this year; $12,939,675 in 2012-2013

Luis Scola, age 31
: $8,591,793 this year; $9,408,207 in 2012-2013; $10,224,622 in 2013-2014; $11,041,037 in 2014-2015

Lamar Odom, age 32
: $8,900,000 this year; team option for $8,200,000 in 2012-2013

Goran Dragic, age 25
: $2.1 million this year, then he’s a free agent

1st round draft pick in 2012 from Houston (It is the Knicks pick...but it is also a loaded draft, so even a #18-26 pick wouldn't be a terrible pick)

This trade was a pretty good haul for the Hornets. They need players and they need quality players. Dragic is a good backup point guard, Lamar Odom, Luis Scola and Kevin Martin are quality basketball players. So the Hornets could have put this team on the court and felt good about the team they had. Is it a Chris Paul-led team? Absolutely not, but it makes them competitive. The trade for Odom, Dragic, Martin, and Scola would put the Hornets in a better long-term position than having Paul on the roster and chance he could leave as a free agent.

Another advantage is any of these players could have been moved to a contender for an expiring contract and/or picks. This would help the Hornets free up more cap room to sign players and allow them a chance to start to build through the draft. There are several (presumed) contenders that wouldn't mind having either Martin, Scola or Odom on the roster. So after being put in a bad situation, the Hornets would have made out pretty good in this trade.

The Hornets were in a no-win situation with a point guard that didn't want to be in New Orleans and was going to be a free agent after this season. Rather than spend the season pretending Paul may re-sign with the team, they went ahead and made a trade which allowed them to go into camp with most of the team they know will be on the court this year. Could the Hornets hypothetically get a better deal later in the season? Perhaps, but they don't want to be stuck in a situation where they have Paul leaving in a trade hanging over the team during the year.

The Hornets are now back in a no-win situation. I can't see how Chris Paul gets traded to another team that isn't the Lakers and they stuck with him on the roster, while fully knowing he doesn't want to be there. If Paul gets traded to another team that isn't the Lakers, I can't imagine what the Lakers would do. That would be the NBA manipulating the place where a superstar lands through a trade. Of course, Paul is a free agent after the season, so if he didn't like the team he was traded to then he would be a free agent after this season. What's worse, is the Hornets now look at a realistic scenario of losing Chris Paul and not getting much back in return if he doesn't get traded. By trying to protect small-market teams, the NBA would actually end up hurting a small market team. The Hornets would then be in a situation much like the Cavs were when they lost LeBron James, just without the Clippers around to hand them the #1 overall pick.

What's funny, at least to me, is I don't know if this trade would have made the Lakers better. Gasol and Odom aren't players on par with Chris Paul, but they are also players who have height and played an important role for the Lakers over the past couple of years. Absent, the Lakers getting Dwight Howard (who seems to want to go to New Jersey), the Lakers would then be counting on Andrew Bynum as their center and would lose the flexibility of having Odom on the roster to play every position known to man.

Take a look at the Lakers roster. The present day makeup of the roster, does that seem to you like a team that is ready to dominate the NBA in 2012? Had the trade gone through the starting lineup would be:

Chris Paul
Kobe Bryant
Ron Artest
Andrew Bynum

The bench would look like:

Derek Fisher
Steve Blake
Matt Barnes
Luke Walton
Derrick Caracter
Devin Ebanks

Is that a title team? I'm not sure it is. The Western Conference is still going to be a tough conference this year. Bynum is a question mark, Kobe Bryant has a lot of mileage on his legs, and even Paul has had injury issues over the last couple of seasons. This Lakers team with Paul at point guard would be a very good team and I am sure the fact the Lakers would save money in the long-term didn't make the other team owners very happy. Obviously if the Lakers traded for Dwight Howard then they would be an improved team with Howard over Bynum in the lineup.

I don't know where the NBA and David Stern can go from here. They have painted themselves in a corner in a way. If New Orleans, Los Angeles and Houston can't re-work the deal to make it more amenable to the other owners then I don't see a situation where Chris Paul should be traded without the Hornets having a permanent owner. Actually, it would probably irritate me even more if the three teams had to re-work the deal to get the satisfaction of the other owners. I realize the NBA owns the Hornets, but the idea other NBA teams have to approve a deal one of their competing NBA teams is making rubs me the wrong way.

It is not in the best interests of the Hornets or the NBA to keep Chris Paul on the Hornets team this year. Now Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, and every other player involved in this trade know they are on the trade block and probably aren't very happy. At the very least it will make for an awkward training camp. Granted, we all know the NBA is a business, but it won't decrease the amount of unhappiness or awkwardness felt by some of the players involved in the trade. This could happen with any nixed or aborted trade, but the problem is all sides had agreed to this trade and then the NBA owners threw a hissy fit that a large market team was picking up a star point guard.

It's understandable the frustrations of the owners to see star players go to large market teams, but they also need to understand NBA players are going to eventually play in the city they want to play in. If Chris Paul doesn't play in Los Angeles this year, if he really wants to play there next year, a way to make this happen will occur. Restricting player movement is a noble goal in the eyes of the owners, but it is also an unrealistic goal. The best thing NBA owners can do is accept they can't rig the system and restrict player movement when they see it as unfavorable to their team. I put a lot of the blame with David Stern, who took a heavy-handed approach and combined it with taking advantage of a clear conflict of interest to adhere to the owner's wishes. Stern must have thought if he can't force players to play in a small market, he will take advantage of the NBA's ownership of the Hornets to muck up a trade which would have helped all teams involved.

That is what I think is so ironic in the result. The NBA owners and David Stern wanted to help small market teams compete in the NBA and give the illusion of a level playing field. By doing this they possibly have handcuffed a small market team (the Hornets) and possibly ensured the Hornets will get little in return for Chris Paul. The NBA is more concerned with keeping the illusion of both large and small teams being as attractive to superstars than they are with allowing NBA teams to make trades seen as improving the team. The NBA owners should work as hard at putting a quality product on the court for their respective teams as they do in restricting the movement of players who will eventually end up in a large market anyway.


Martin F. said...

After rejecting the Clippers offer, we can now say for sure, David Stern, deranged.

Bengoodfella said...

Martin, I have to agree. This is a mess. Did the trade include a 1st round pick or Eric Gordon. I don't know if I ever heard for sure? I thought that was a pretty good trade opportunity too.

Martin F. said...

It included one or the other, he wanted both, in addition to all the other things.