CP3 Trade Fiasco Follow-up: Regardless of Motivation, Stern is Wrong
After my initial reaction to the Chris Paul trade situation immediately following David Stern's veto of the Lakers-Rockets-Hornets deal last Thursday night, some discussions with various TrueHoop Network colleagues have caused me to want to refine and focus my position on the continuing events after my scattershot initial thoughts.
Specifically, I want focus on Stern's actions, and set aside the idea that lingering large-market/small-market tensions from the lockout may be influencing his actions, as that is speculation on his motivations, something I cannot know, regardless of how many respected NBA media members across the board are suggesting that this may be an underlying factor.
Regardless of his motivations, Stern is in the wrong. It is not right for him (or other league executives, such as Joel Litvin or Stu Jackson, as his proxies) to be as deeply involved in the trade details as he has been, regardless of how good the eventual trade turns out to be for the Hornets, as I think there's a decent chance that the eventual deal will be more favorable to the Hornets from a basketball persepctive in the long-term.
First, I go back again to the original statement that Stern made after the league took over the team, saying "while this process has been going on, there have been two significant transactions. And our response to both of them was you guys are management, you understand your budget and your instructions, just go ahead, because we've got Jac Sperling, Hugh Weber here, and if they recommend it, then we're going to be approving it."
That is the way this process should work, the way it has to work for the sake of the integrity of the league. Just because Stern's statement may not have reflected the league's true policy toward the Hornets, or even if we may have suspected that this was a crock and Stern would get involved in operations anyway, does not justify his actions. He is now either contradicting his statement of policy, which has essentially been the league's consistent rhetoric regarding the Hornets situation throughout, or proving it to be an outright lie.
The policy as spelled out by Stern in the initial conference call is how it should be. The league lays out general parameters for how the Hornets should operate, team chairman Jac Sperling is the ultimate decision-maker within those parameters, and the league approves those decisions unless there is something patently egregious. Sperling has been established as the person who holds the team's seat on the NBA Board of Governors - for the purposes of operations, he is the owner. And it has to be that way for the integrity of the league. Unless there's something done that's beyond the pale, the league should not be stepping in, and there's no reasonable cause to overturn the person they've established as the team's owner on the Paul trade talks.
The NBA's role in approving trades is another concept which has gotten skewed in this whole saga. The league's role in "approving" trades is to judge submitted trades on whether they are legal by league rules, and to ensure that nothing grossly egregious is being done. The league is doing something entirely different when they are "approving" the Paul trade proposals. They are essentially getting involved before the submission process in this case. There's a 0% chance that the original Lakers-Hornets-Rockets trade would not have been approved under standard operating procedure. This is an entirely different definition of the term "approval".
Hornets GM Dell Demps has been working within his budget and parameters. If the NBA had wanted to set up different parameters for dealing with Chris Paul, it should have established those parameters in advance, and it certainly had ample time to do so, as this was not a surprise situation that CP3 might need to be traded. Even just since the lockout ended, there have been a million Paul trade rumors for the entire world of NBA fans to see. It's mind-boggling that the league and the team's management in New Orleans are on such wildly different pages regarding the question of Chris Paul, as if the topic was never considered.
There's been some argument that the NBA has the right to take such invasive action because they are preparing the Hornets for sale. First, I don't think that that excuses the way they've affected the integrity of the league. Second, they had plenty of time and opportunity to establish broad parameters for the Hornets which tied with their sale goals. Third, the sad thing is that I really don't think that any result of the Paul process will have a material impact of the team's sale price.
The crazy thing is that the NBA has actually done an amazing job in New Orleans from a business perspective, overhauling the team's financial outlook in a way that is nothing short of miraculous, and that I thought was going to be impossible to achieve. That is the heavy lifting in terms of getting the Hornets ready for sale.
I don't think that any player-personnel moves from here will have anything more than a marginal impact. There are three general outcomes for the Hornets, none of them great:
1. Paul remains on the team for a lame-duck season before walking via free agency.
2. Paul is traded for a package of veterans (a la the Rockets-Lakers proposal) which keeps them roughly competitive in the short-term, but leaves them with onerous commitments in the long-term.
3. Paul is traded for a package of younger players/expiring assets (a la the Clippers proposal) which is more of a tear-down approach that leaves them less competitive in the short-term but better prepared for the future.
Frankly, in terms of which approach maximizes the team's sale price, I've seen reasonable arguments for each of these three. It's ultimately going to suck for any of three, as the team's going to lose Chris Paul. For a franchise that's struggled so much to establish its fan base, I think that rallying around a Scola-Martin-Odom team that could have scrapped its way into the playoffs might have been best, to retain that fan support in the short term, even if it required some potentially onerous long-term commitments. But again, I think one could make a plausible case for any of three scenarios, I don't think there's any one magical path, which is part of the reason I think it's been crazy that the league's been involved. To what end?
Now, the skewing of the "approval" process is what's having repercussions not only in making it more challenging for the Hornets to find a trading partner, but also in creating paralysis and chaos to franchises across the league.
And again, why? What is the point of all this? The Hornets are being disallowed from making a reasonable trade for questionable, marginal value for the sale price.
Whether David Stern was right or wrong regarding on the particular merits of the trade, or the team is worth marginally more or less, or his intentions were sinister or not, is somewhat irrelevant. The act of stepping in on a reasonable transaction impacts the integrity of the league, and it was thoroughly inappropriate for him to do so.
I stand by my original belief that this is shockingly dumb, poorly thought-out, a unnecessary disaster, and the possibly the worst decision of David Stern's commissioner, a sign that it's time for his tenure to end sooner rather than later.