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NBA's top team executive? By next spring, it could be Stern

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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There is a parallel universe where the current NBA standings play out at the end of the season as they do now, with:

 Indiana and Golden State as playoff teams.
 Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers not playoff teams.
 New Orleans and the Los Angeles Clippers as title contenders, and therefore:
 David Stern as Executive of the Year.

Now we know it's early in the process, way too early -- though not so early that we haven't already read turgid tales of whether the Celtics and Lakers are being destroyed by the league's Jacobin owners.

David Stern comes out of the starting gate looking like a genius. (US Presswire)  
David Stern comes out of the starting gate looking like a genius. (US Presswire)  
(And isn't it odd that no other teams that have started slowly have engendered much notice?)

But we also know that this was the aim of the owners' lockout -- to break the powerful players and the powerful teams that attract and empower them. To create an even playing field in which the players were the rollers.

So this would be as good a time as any to celebrate the victory of the revolutionaries, if it were in fact a victory.

It can't be, of course, not with 958 of the 990 regular-season games still to play. But Stern is probably already dreaming his dreamy dreams of joining that august list of geniuses that include Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, Jerry and Bryan Colangelo, Red Auerbach and Joe Dumars, Jerry Krause and Bob Whitsitt.

I mean, he took enough guff from all three sides of the lockout -- the hard-line owners, the distrustful players and the perpetually fans and media. He did what a commissioner is paid to do -- take the heat so the owners don't have to -- and he will take it doubly if the Lakers and Celtics both miss the postseason for the first time since 1994 and the second time ever.

He built an empire on the divine right of kings, and the Lakers and Celtics were the crowned heads. The lockout challenged that, though, and more important, the first time the Lakers tried to reassert their authority in the Chris Paul case, Stern stepped in at the public behest of Crazy Danny Gilbert and chose to enrich the Clippers instead.

The Clippers. The anti-Lakers.

But along the way, a funny thing seems to have happened. The burst of adrenalin that the Paul deal created seems to have energized the owners' wards, the New Orleans Hornets. At 2-0, they look less like the walking dead and more like a live wire. At least today they do, and frankly, since none of us knows enough of the future to disregard today, 2-0 stands.

And since Stern is essentially the guy running the operation while the other owners are tending to their own ATMs, why wouldn't he get the Executive of the Year award? I mean, Dell Demps, the Hornets' actual GM, wanted to do the Lakers deal and was hammered flat by the greater good of the hard-liners.

So here's to the Hornets, wards of the court who may end up being lottery winners. And here's to David Stern, secretly preparing his speech months in advance.

I mean, Roger Goodell hasn't done that double yet, has he?

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com.

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