There have been a number of significant Lakers trades in the history of the franchise, but a deal that stands out as one that has affected the team for years is the blockbuster trade for superstar point guard Chris Paul that almost happened five years ago this week.
Back in December, 2011, the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Hornets, and Houston Rockets were discussing a deal that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers. Forward/center Pau Gasol was ticketed for the Rockets, while the Hornets were going to bring in a package that included combo forward Lamar Odom, power forward Luis Scola, shooting guard Kevin Martin, point guard Goran Dragic, and a first-round draft pick in 2012.
The New Orleans Hornets’ ownership situation was in chaos at the time, and NBA Commissioner David Stern had to step in and act as temporary owner and decision-maker for the franchise. During this time, Los Angeles, Houston, and Hornets general manager Dell Demps negotiated and agreed to a three-way trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers. However, once this proposal was submitted to the NBA league office, Stern vetoed the transaction, stating that he was putting a stop to the deal for “basketball reasons.”
Dell Demps continued to shop Chris Paul around the league, and a few days later, New Orleans and the Los Angeles Clippers agreed to a deal for Chris Paul. The Hornets received small forward Al-Farouq Aminu, shooting guard Eric Gordon, center Chris Kaman, and Los Angeles’ first-round draft choice in 2012, as detailed by Bleacher Report. Interestingly, when this proposed swap was turned in to David Stern for approval, he green-lighted the trade and Chris Paul was on his way to Los Angeles — but to play for the Clippers rather than the Lakers.
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David Stern was interviewed earlier this week on a national radio program (transcript courtesy of SLAM Online) and he was asked about the cancelled trade that not only changed the fortunes of the Lakers and Clippers, but also altered the landscape of the NBA as a whole.
“I’m going to correct your language: What’s ‘cancellation’? The GM (Dell Demps) was not authorized to make that trade. And acting on behalf of owners, we decided not to make it. I was an owner rep. There was nothing to ‘void.’ It just never got made.
“When you’re the commissioner and you have two teams that are ticked off at you, as in the Lakers and Houston, and the GMs without wanting to be attributed, spend their time trashing you, the wrong impression can be granted. It was one of the few times I decided to just go radio silent and let it play out, and I got killed. So, the answer is: there was never a trade. It was never approved by me as the owner rep.”
It seems that Stern is playing a game of semantics here, insinuating that there was never actually a trade agreement in place, when in fact that is not the case. All three of the teams involved in these trade discussions agreed to the deal, and under normal circumstances, the transaction would have been approved by the NBA since it was legal under the NBA’s trade and salary cap rules at the time. However, David Stern was the acting owner of the New Orleans Hornets, as well as commissioner of the NBA. Stern wielded the power he had and decided to nix the Lakers’ trade for Chris Paul.
No one but David Stern will ever know for sure why he waved his magic wand and essentially took Chris Paul from the Lakers and moved him to the Clippers, but there is some evidence that indicates what may have happened. According to NBC Sports, owners around the league were unhappy with the “super team” concept that began when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh joined forces in Miami. NBA team owners wanted to prevent this from happening again, and allegedly put pressure on Stern to cancel the deal that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers.
It’s ironic that one of the most talked-about of all Lakers trades was a deal that didn’t actually happen. What if the transaction had been allowed? Would Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant have been able to win NBA championships together? What would the domino effect have been around the NBA? We can only speculate as to what would have taken place in Los Angeles and elsewhere over the last five years, but one thing seems clear: David Stern changed the course of NBA history when he made the controversial decision five years ago to block Chris Paul from wearing a Lakers uniform.
[Featured Image by Mark J. Terrill/AP Images]