One of the landmark moments of the NBA will forever be the vetoed trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers. It was a deal that would have paired two of the greatest players not just of their era but in league history in Paul and Kobe Bryant.
From the manner in which it was done to the ripple effect it had on the Lakers to the “what if” possibilities that spawned from it, the veto will always be regarded with ire by Lakers fans and wonder across the league.
The ire largely comes from the belief that it was a fair deal agreed upon by the front offices in place that was shot down by the league, who at the time oversaw the New Orleans Hornets as they sought out a new owner. Nearly all of the controversy stems from the league and, specifically, then-commissioner David Stern’s involvement in nixing the deal.
The conspiracy fire had plenty of fuel dumped on it in a recent piece by Andrew Grief of the Los Angeles Times, who spoke to former NBA vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson on the 10-year anniversary of the vetoed trade.
Jackson’s role relative to the Hornets and the Paul trade included Stern using his previous experience as a general manager to bounce ideas and plans off of, including the proposed trade that would have sent Paul to the Lakers and a package of Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and Goran Dragic to the Hornets, the latter three via Houston as part of the three-team deal.
“[Stern] ran things by me, as an ex-general manager at the time. I explained to David the following … I felt that the package of Odom, Martin, Scola, Dragic was going to vault the New Orleans Hornets to a position where they’d make the playoffs but they were going to be a playoff team that was not capable of winning a championship.
“In other words, I thought so much of Monty Williams, I thought he would coach them up and get in the playoffs, not have home-court advantage and fans would be happy, obviously, but they would be caught in mediocrity and a mediocre team is not necessarily attractive to a potential owner. They want lesser payroll, they want to put their stamp on the team and build it and by making this trade, to me it made the franchise unattractive, or less attractive, to a potential owner. And to my surprise after another day David kind of got his head wrapped around it and he agreed. He made the decision to veto the trade and not approve.”
It’s (seemingly) the most honest take anyone directly involved has had about the situation. The looming sale of the team and the positioning of making the Hornets more appealing was always an idea more commonly discussed amongst fans as a theory but not one ever addressed.
The excuse often used was that it simply wasn’t a good enough offer, which Jackson addressed and called only a “half-truth.”
“David made some comment that the reason he vetoed the trade was because it wasn’t an attractive enough package for a player of Chris Paul’s caliber. That was only a half-truth. The other part was that he also felt that he wanted the Hornets to be an attractive property to a prospective owner.”
The difference between the Lakers and Clippers offer that was eventually accepted was the latter one had more prospects and picks than the former. In essence, the Clippers deal lowered the payroll, made the team more attractive to a buyer and may or may not have come with an under-the-table promise of landing the No. 1 pick in Anthony Davis in the upcoming draft (kidding...kind of).
“The attractiveness [of the Clippers’ offer] was it wasn’t as good a package that was originally agreed to, but they did get a first-round pick. … The [three-team] package they were going to get was too good. At the time, Kevin Martin was a really good player. Goran Dragic was a very promising player. Lamar Odom was a championship-level player and Luis Scola is a 15-to-20-year veteran in the NBA who was very productive at that point in his career. They were going to be good. And Monty Williams was the coach. So they were going to be good. Just not good enough.
“Given the NBA collective bargaining agreement, that is not a place you wanted to be at that time because as you may recall, being a mediocre team in the NBA under that collective bargaining agreement just meant you were resigned to mediocrity, purgatory.”
Ultimately, Jackson’s comments should likely only serve to further anger and add to the ire of Lakers fans moving forward. He provided backing to many of the theories, conspiratorial or not, that fans held about why the trade was vetoed.
It won’t provide any sort of closure or resolution to how things played out — in reality, nothing will — but it does further establish The Veto as one of the biggest moments in recent league history.