Few moments in NBA history are more likely to get a vitriolic response when brought up to fans of the Los Angeles Lakers than the infamously vetoed Chris Paul trade. The ripple effect from the decision David Stern made about that trade will be felt for decades to come.
In a great profile of Stern by Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated, Stern was asked about the deal that was never to be and, well, his answer was peak David Stern.
How about Chris Paul, whose trade to the Lakers, Stern vetoed in 2011 during his time as de facto owner of the New Orleans franchise (then the Hornets, now the Pelicans)? “I didn’t do a great job of explaining it at the time. There was a trade that [New Orleans GM] Dell Demps wanted us to approve and I said heck no, but he had told [Rockets GM] Daryl Morey and [then Lakers GM] Mitch Kupchak he had authority to do it and he didn’t. I said no. We just settled a lockout and you want me to approve a basketball trade?”
The reaction was swift but Stern held firm. “[Demps] had agreed to [trade Paul to the Lakers for] Kevin Martin and Luis Scola or something, and I said we can do better than that.... And the next trade was [to the Clippers for] Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu and what we thought was a really great draft pick, the 10th pick, which turned out to be Austin Rivers. At least those three and someone else [center Chris Kaman]. But Dell Demps is a lousy general manager and none of those players are currently with the team anymore, and he may lose Anthony Davis.”
Before we get to that Davis nugget, let me take a quick second to point out how funny it is that Stern points to none of the players being on their original team, or whatever. Thing is: players are changing teams at an insane rate thanks to negotiations in the CBA since he stepped down. Player movement means next to nothing regarding the point he might’ve been trying to make about the trade at the time.
And as nice as it would be to speculate further on Davis’ future, I find it hard to believe a) that Stern has some inside knowledge about Davis’ intentions beyond his current contract or b) that he’d offer up said information as lackadaisically as he did there (Editor’s Note: Idk Stern might be in full old-man IDGAF mode).
Regarding the actual trade at the time, look, I’m no one to question Stern’s recollection of the events, but him not having the Lakers giving up anyone in the Chris Paul trade is definitely interesting. If that was the case, it would make sense that he thought the trade was unfair.
The thing is: Here’s the actual trade package, as previously reported by Marc Stein while he was still at ESPN:
The proposed trade would have sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to the Rockets and furnished New Orleans with three top-flight NBA players in Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and Lamar Odom as well as playoff-tested guard Goran Dragic and a 2012 first-round pick that Houston had acquired from the Knicks.
That doesn’t sound like nothing, even if that trade is by no means objectively better than the one that eventually went down. Stein reported in the above piece that executives around the league were impressed by that initial offer/vetoed package for Paul. If the intent was to contend, the Hornets could have done worse.
As it turns out, New Orleans was more interested in tanking with the intent to
eventually be gifted the number one overall pick that would turn into Anthony Davis win the lottery and draft Davis. Stern’s further explanation of his thought process gets even weirder — despite having just said that a current NBA general manager is not good at his job.
Stern continues: “I did it because I was protecting the then Hornets.... To this day everyone always asks me, ‘Well why did you keep Chris Paul from going to the Lakers?’ I didn’t keep him. I didn’t approve the trade. No team sells or trades a future Hall of Famer without the owner signing off, and I was the owner’s rep. But I wasn’t going to hand up Dell Demps.” After this, Stern goes on for a bit before returning to what he sees as the irony. “Now when DeMarcus Cousins signs with Golden State, then the great unwashed Twitter says, ‘Adam Silver should be like Stern and stop him from going.’ Oh, O.K., guys, that’s great! Right? That’s ridiculous. Step up, strap on a set. It’s stupid.”
Honestly, none of this is a good look for Stern, which remains consistent with how bad it was a look at the time.
Whether you saw the veto as Stern being a pseudo owner protecting an eventual sale or him actually stepping in to guide the direction of the team (the answer is somewhere in the middle, in my opinion), the fact that the NBA ever owned one of the teams and Stern allowed the perception to exist that he would veto a trade and eventually gift a number one overall pick to whoever purchased the franchise is arguably his worst look ever as a commissioner.
New Orleans didn’t take Stern’s comments lying down, by the way.
Statement from the New Orleans Pelicans pic.twitter.com/Ywzpd5M3N4— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) October 24, 2018
The shade in that final sentence is as amazing as it is warranted.