The Chris Paul era in Los Angeles ended before it even began. Literally.
Soon after it was reported that CP3 was being shipped to the L.A. Lakers in a three-team deal that would have landed Pau Gasol in Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin and others in New Orleans, the NBA, the official owners of the league-run Hornets, called it off.
What happened? Who would have won if it had gone through? Where do Paul and the Lakers go from here? We're on the case.
1. Who won the trade (before it was canceled)?
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Ironically, the trade had upside and downside for all sides. The Lakers snagged Paul but gave up an elite player and another very good one to get him. New Orleans sent away the face of its franchise but got a nice haul in return. Houston was getting a legend in Gasol and some important cap flexibility but at the cost of some nice pieces.
Larry Coon, ESPN.com: The Lakers won, but it wasn't the slam dunk that many think it was. They gave up two-thirds of their front line for a player who, while great, has a bum knee and could leave them in the lurch at season's end. The Hornets were never going to get the best of this or any other trade. They were dealing from a position of weakness. They had to trade Paul, and the rest of the league knew it.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Houston? Well, if we assume the Lakers' inevitable next move was to trade for Dwight Howard, Los Angeles won this trade. But on surface alone, Houston gave up three role players and got back one of the top big men in the league. The Lakers' giving away their size would have taken away their advantage. But the next move probably would have negated that.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: The Lakers. Acquiring Paul without giving up Andrew Bynum was a classic Jerry Buss move that kept his all-in Paul-Howard dream viable. For the Hornets, it was an admirable return, given that they couldn't get maximum value because Paul wouldn't commit long term to many teams. Houston's role seemed the most questionable, as acquiring Gasol didn't seem to put the Rockets on a championship path.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: The Rockets. Daryl Morey has waited years to sign a major free agent and has been thwarted at every turn. The names of the excellent players he inherited were too often paired with "when healthy." He apparently had Pau and great pieces in his grasp -- a major stride toward contending. The future benefits for New Orleans and L.A. were murkier."
2. Fact or Fiction: The Lakers got screwed by the NBA.
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Fact. With no reasonable precedent, the league tried to make a symbolic statement by hijacking a real-life transaction.
Larry Coon, ESPN.com: Fact. From David Stern's mysterious "basketball reasons" justification to Dan Gilbert's (if not comic sans, then at least comical) letter, the league appears to have been acting on the basis of collusion and conflict of interest. The league set the Hornets up with a caretaker specifically to avoid this problem, then trumped the caretaker's autonomy. It set a dangerous and disturbing precedent, and I can't help but think the league's integrity has suffered a blow here.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Fact. Whether you agree with the trade being fair or not, the league had no right to block it from happening. The Hornets weren't forced into sending Paul to the Lakers. They chose to. And they got a pretty decent haul for him. If this is a case of limiting what a big-market team can do, that sounds like league collusion to me.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: Fact. And the Hornets did, too, possibly even worse. Apparently, they are required to hold on to Paul for the entire season and lose him with no compensation. There are repercussions leading to uncertainties all over the place here. It's staggering how poorly thought-out this decision by the NBA appears to have been.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Fact! The Lakers won a ton of games last season, so it makes sense they would have more assets than most other teams to pull off a big trade. They had to sacrifice their identity, the one that brought two rings, in order to make this happen. They did a fair deal, and it was quashed foolishly and without warrant.
3. Fact or Fiction: This was just a case of an NBA owner vetoing a trade.
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Fiction. Owners veto trades all the time. They do so because they're some combination of cheap, idiosyncratic, megalomaniacal or delusional. The motive here was something entirely different and more nefarious -- checking the power of a particular class of players and a specific NBA team.
Larry Coon, ESPN.com: Fiction. It's not clear at this point whether Stern was acting within his broad authority as commissioner or in his fiduciary position over the Hornets. But Gilbert's letter is a smoking gun. Read it carefully; he talks about what the deal will do for the Lakers and what it will do for non-taxpayers such as himself. He never mentions what it will do for the Hornets. Gilbert called on Stern to let the "29 owners of the Hornets" vote, but his letter made it clear the Hornets were the least of his concerns.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Fact-ish fiction? I guess it depends on what we believe the story to be. Did Stern decide this was a bad deal for "his team"? Did the owners bully him into reversing the trade decision? Either way, I don't know which case is worse than the other.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: Fiction. This was an egregious abuse of power by the league, which had said all along that the Hornets' basketball operations staff would be able to operate without interference. This was a reasonable trade with no reasonable cause to be blocked, and possibly the single worst thing David Stern has done as commissioner.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Fiction. In order to avoid a conflict of interest, the NBA had to create distance between itself and the management of the Hornets. It flagrantly violated that arrangement, and evidence suggests this decision was made for a reason other than the Hornets' good. What owner would wittingly act against his own franchise?
4. More likely to end up with the Lakers: Dwight Howard or Chris Paul?
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Paul. If the league doesn't rescind its decision (in the face of possible legal action), it will be untenable for it to allow a similar deal between the Lakers and the Magic for Howard.
Larry Coon, ESPN.com: How can one possibly answer a question like that now that the rules have been thrown out the window? For whatever reason, Stern is now exercising his power to nix deals he doesn't like. It's not like the Hornets were taken for a ride -- they had to trade Paul and weren't going to get a significantly better deal (for example, neither Stephen Curry nor Eric Gordon were ever offered, according to reports). It's not like the Lakers were getting Paul for nothing; they were trading an All-Star PF/C and the reigning sixth man of the year. What gets approved or denied in the future? Is it arbitrary?
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Howard. Maybe the league wises up and forces this trade through during the weekend. Hopefully, we don't have legal action that falls out from this debacle. Either way, the Lakers still have pieces to get Dwight from Orlando, and he can still urge Orlando to acquiesce. You know ... unless the league vetoes all trades to big markets now.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: I would say Howard at this point. If the Lakers are going to be denied the opportunity to acquire Paul, they should be able to include more assets in a deal to attract Howard from Orlando.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: I've got a feeling this deal could still go through Friday, maybe with an extra pick or something going New Orleans' way. It's really the only way this obscene mess can be cleaned up. But if that doesn't happen, I think the Paul-to-Lakers deal dies while Howard remains in the mix.
5. Where will Chris Paul be playing a year from now?
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Staples Center.
Larry Coon, ESPN.com: Not New Orleans, that's for sure. And it's a pretty safe bet he won't be playing in Cleveland. Most likely he will get traded somewhere else -- either right away, or shortly before the trade deadline -- then will take his option to become a free agent in June and sign a contract with a contender. A contract Stern can't nix.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Well, we know he's not allowed to join the Lakers. He's probably not allowed to join the Knicks, either, because they're a pretty big market. The Clippers also play in a big market, so let's not send him there. How about we let him rotate from Cleveland to Charlotte to Indiana every three games? Would that solve competitive balance?
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: After a day with two shocking NBA events -- both the Paul trade and the blocking thereof -- I don't feel confident predicting much of anything, so I'll say CP3 will be playing his home games at Staples Center to double my chances. Both the Lakers and Clippers have some combination of appeal and possibility, for different reasons.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Wherever he wants. That's the thing some owners don't seem to get. Talent like his is the scarcest quality in the NBA. In market terms, that means he has all the power, all the leverage. If he really wants to be in New York, my guess is that's where he's going.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Kevin Arnovitz and Larry Coon cover the NBA for ESPN.com. Mark Haubner, Zach Harper and Beckley Mason contribute to the TrueHoop Network.
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