Wednesday, December 14, 2011

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.


At 3:49 PM, Blogger Basket4life said...

I want to know...I understand Stern is the commish and all, but I think people fail to realize he works for the owners. People are really blaming him on every single thing he does or says, no matter what. Just because.

If you guys are really into the blame game, how about giving it to everyone and not just Stern in particular? How about Dan Gilbert, Michael Jordan and Mark Cuban, some of the owners who admitted they opposed the CP3 trade? I'm sure they would have tuned out Stern even more had he let the trade going through.

I may sound like a Stern's apologist, but you guys are way to quick to blame Stern. I'd really LOVE to see how you guys would fare, having to deal with 30 owners who have different agendas and needs, 450 players (many of them are completely unaware of how the business side of the league works) with their own ideas and agendas, too....not to mention countless agents, tv executives, media members and millions of fans, each one of them with an opinion totally different from other fans. You can clearly understand that making everyone (or even most people) happy is an impossible task, no matter who the commissioner is (kinda like politics). So you're always going to have enemies who don't like what you're doing, no matter what.

If Stern approved the deal, people would be blasting him for letting the Lakers becoming even stronger (conspiracy!!), overlooking the fact the Hornets would've gotten an ok deal.

Or if he didn't purchase the Hornets, in turn selling it to potential out-of-town buyers interested to move the team away from New Orleans, he would've been accused of abandoning New Orleans.

So, my point is: no matter what, there will always be many people out there who will disagree with you, no matter what. And the truth is that 99,99% of them wouldn't even be able to do your job, or even lasting 10 minutes on the job for that matter.

I have a hunch most people will miss Stern once he's gone. You only notice someone's missing when he's left.

At 10:29 PM, Blogger sophomorecritic said...

At 9:02 AM, Blogger Basket4life said...

I know people won't like what I'm saying, but whatever. Stern negotiated the deal the Hornets needed, an even better one than the deal the Lakers previously offered. By doing so, he helped to set up a win/win trade for both teams...can he r...un for executive of the year? No offense but this deal turned out pretty well for someone who got villified like that by people who like to rush to judgment before everything is said and done. The execution might have been poor and a PR disaster, but calling this the "worst decision" Stern has ever made is laughable. It's typical knee-jerking reaction calling something "best" or "worst" in the heat of the moment. Stern haters can say what they want, but at the end of the day both teams got a fair deal. And let's keep in mind business leaders have to make unpopular decisions quite often, so it's kinda hard to me to join the masses and criticize the commish. Plus, he works for the owners, who also told him to block the Lakers deal (even though Stern said he would've blocked it anyway, owners or not). So if we really want to get into this blame game, let's blame also Mark Cuban, Dan Gilbert, Michael Jordan and all of the other owners against the Lakers trade rather than singling out the commish just because he's the most visible guy in the process.
Another think to keep in mind. While the league owning a team isn't the most ideal thing to do, people need to understand that if the league didn't purchase the Hornets the team wouldn't be in NO right now. That's a fact. There were some bu...yers interested to get the Hornets but they all wanted to move them away. So the NBA stepped in and purchased the team. Had the league allowed out-of-town buyers to get into the game and run away with the team, then those very same writers and fans accusing Stern of a "conflict of interest" would be the first in line accusing him of abandoning New Orleans and, let's face it, nobody in corporate America wants to leave New Orleans right now because it would look bad and they would open themselves to much criticism since people are over-sensitive these days. Anyways, it could be worse, believe me. A few years ago the Italian soccer League President also acted as VP of AC Milan, doing it for several years. So, believe me, weirder things happen in other sports.

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