It's been 10 long years since Chris Paul nearly joined the Los Angeles Lakers, and fans of the team are still bitter to this day. The Lakers managed to construct a multi-team trade offer that would have sent several above-average starters, including Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and Lamar Odom, to the then-New Orleans Hornets, but even after general manager Dell Demps agreed to the deal, then-commissioner David Stern vetoed the deal. He didn't do so as commissioner of the league, though, but rather, as acting owner of the Pelicans, which were owned by the league at the time.
While Stern has publicly criticized the package that the Hornets would have received for Paul, he never went into detail about what he actually wanted to accomplish with the deal. As part of a 10-year anniversary story on the failed trade by Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times, though, former NBA executive Stu Jackson was more specific. In essence, he and Stern believed that the Laker deal would have made the Hornets too good.
"[Stern] "ran things by me, as an ex-general manager at the time. I explained to David the following … I felt that the package of Odom, Martin, Scola, Dragic was going to vault the New Orleans Hornets to a position where they'd make the playoffs but they were going to be a playoff team that was not capable of winning a championship.
"In other words, I thought so much of Monty Williams, I thought he would coach them up and get in the playoffs, not have home-court advantage and fans would be happy, obviously, but they would be caught in mediocrity and a mediocre team is not necessarily attractive to a potential owner. They want lesser payroll, they want to put their stamp on the team and build it and by making this trade, to me it made the franchise unattractive, or less attractive, to a potential owner. And to my surprise after another day David kind of got his head wrapped around it and he agreed. He made the decision to veto the trade and not approve."
From a purely practical standpoint, Stern and Jackson had a point. Most teams trading superstars prefer young players and draft picks in exchange. It might cost them in the short term, but it gives them their best possible chance at building back into championship contention. One year of struggling after the Paul trade yielded Anthony Davis in the NBA Draft. Tom Benson agreed to buy the Hornets months later.
Yet it's still somewhat amazing to hear an NBA executive essentially admit that the league wanted any team, especially one that it owned itself, to tank. The league has taken aggressive steps in recent years to curb the practice, including changing the lottery odds for teams with the worst records. It just goes to show how different the league's climate was at that time. Teams regularly sell for billions of dollars nowadays, but at that point, the league had to go out of its way to make teams more attractive to possible buyers. They ultimately succeeded, but that won't exactly comfort Lakers fans who are left to wonder what might have been.
The Lakers missed the playoffs for six straight seasons from 2014 through 2019, and those years largely coincided with Paul's prime. Perhaps he could've been the key to getting Kobe Bryant the sixth championship he so craved. His chance at doing so fell through because the deal that would have made him a Laker, ironically enough, would have made his original team too good.