Five years ago today, then-NBA commissioner David Stern, who was serving as the acting governor of the then-New Orleans Hornets, vetoed a deal that would have sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers. The league owned the Hornets at the time, having purchased the franchise from George Shinn.
The potential trade, which also included Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin and a Houston Rockets first-round pick going to New Orleans and Lamar Odom going to Houston, was a blockbuster that would have altered the course of recent NBA history.
Why are we revisiting this now? Aside from it being the five-year anniversary, Stern did an interview and Q&A with Sports Business Radio's Brian Berger and Columbia Journalism students at The Players' Tribune's office in New York on Tuesday, and the audio was published on Thursday. During the talk, Stern addressed the issue.
"I'm going to correct your language," Stern said, as transcribed by Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver. "What 'cancellation?' The GM [Dell Demps] was not authorized to make that trade. And acting on behalf of owners, we decided not to make it. I was an owner rep. There was nothing to 'void.' It just never got made.
"When you're the commissioner and you have two teams that are ticked off at you, as in the Lakers and Houston, and the GMs without wanting to be attributed, spend their time trashing you, the wrong impression can be granted. It was one of the few times I decided to just go radio silent and let it play out, and I got killed. So, the answer is: there was never a trade. It was never approved by me as the owner rep."
Stern, at the time, infamously said that the decision was made for "basketball reasons" -- the logic was that New Orleans needed younger players and draft picks, not veterans, in exchange for Paul. The front office, though, was furious, especially because the league office was reportedly involved in the trade negotiations.
All along, Stern has maintained that the frustration around the league was unfounded -- trades are always subject to approval from ownership, and this one didn't get done because ownership wasn't in favor of it. Happens all the time!
The trouble with that line of thinking is that this particular scenario was anything but normal. This happened as soon as the 2011 lockout ended, after months of discussion about competitive balance and small-market teams losing money. In the previous year that the league had owned the franchise, the Hornets front office believed it had the freedom to make any move that it thought would benefit the team, including moving Paul. Then it found out that it didn't. Stern didn't exactly address that part.