All Star NBA point guard Chris Paul is currently a free agent, and he can choose between a potential $200 million deal to return to the Los Angeles Clippers or test his value in the open market. Six years ago, many assumed a trade initially sending Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers instead of their fellow Staples Center occupants was a done deal until then-NBA commissioner David Stern stepped in and shut it down.
In 2011 Paul played for the New Orleans Hornets—a team that was co-owned by the NBA while awaiting an ownership change. With Paul approaching free agency, Hornet’s general manager Dell Demps agreed to send Paul to the Lakers in a three-way trade also involving the Houston Rockets. Approximately 45 minutes after the trade was announced, Stern called the Hornets to veto the deal.
If there was a “How Sway?” meme back in 2011, crushed Lakers fans likely would have used it. Because the league owned the team, it was a rare case of Stern being able to step in on behalf of the league’s 30 co-owners, who in essence, employed Stern. Those skeptical of Stern playing the role of league commissioner and acting on behalf of the owners pointed out a key fact New York Times writer Howard Beck presented upon news of the blockbuster deal being killed.
“Until now, league officials had granted autonomy to the Hornets’ front office to make personnel decisions it deemed appropriate. This was the first time the league has stepped in,” Beck wrote.
During a recent appearance on the Nunyo & Company podcast, Stern finally explained the “basketball reasons” that caused him to nix the Chris Paul trade and triggered NBA conspiracy theorists to break out their tin foil hats.
“In the course of the weekend, we thought we could redo the deal,” Stern said. “We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with [Kyle] Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick. Not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn't even there for us to play with at the time.”
Aside from throwing the now-fired Kupchak under the bus, Stern’s statement raises a few questions. The initial deal Stern vetoed would’ve brought point guard Goran Dragic to New Orleans. Why would he have also wanted former Houston point guard Kyle Lowry in the deal as well?
The panicking Stern referenced would be Odom’s anger at Los Angeles potentially shopping him. According to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, Odom took the trade personally, became disgruntled and didn’t practice after the Chris Paul deal was vetoed. Faced with a clearly unhappy Lamar Odom, Kupchak traded his star forward to the Dallas Mavericks instead. Paul was later dealt to the Los Angeles Clippers for multiple players and a first round draft pick, and "Lob City" was born.
Stern has retired as NBA commissioner. Kupchak has since been relieved of his duties by Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss, and Odom is no longer in the league after a life-threatening overdose in 2015. Both Paul and Lowry are expected to sign lucrative deals as free agents, and Tom Benson has since purchased the Hornets. Perhaps the pertinent question is why would Stern wait six years to explain his rationale for an unprecedented veto of a trade?