The Trade That Was… And Then The Trade That Wasn't
For a day, Los Angeles shocked the sports world. In the sport of baseball, the Angels signed the top two free agents at their respective position. But in basketball, the Lakers, winners of 16 NBA Championships in team history, looked poised for another run with the acquisition of one of the game's top point guards, Chris Paul from New Orleans.
Paul would help L.A. in numerous ways- last season, the 26-year old was fourth in the league in assists per game (9.8), ranking first in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.42), and still scoring the ball at a high rate (15.9 points per game) playing with a supporting cast drastically less talented than that of the Lakers. But the three-time All-Defensive player paced the league in steals per game for the third straight season, demonstrating his prowess on both ends of the floor. Paul elevated his game even further in the post-season, averaging 11.5 assists per game to go along with 22 points per game and almost single-handedly taking down the Lakers in the first-round and abusing their veteran backcourt of Derek Fisher and Steve Blake.
The Lakers would have given up two of their most important pieces in this deal- losing Pau Gaol to Houston and Lamar Odom to New Orleans. The Spaniard in Gasol was the second-leading scorer on the team, averaging 18.8 points, and a team-best 10.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists. His versatility and fire was key to Kobe Bryant's elite playing of the pick-and-roll. He is highly skilled low post scorer, but also possesses the skill set to step away from the rim and knock down jumpers out to 18 feet and handle the basketball on the perimeter. His versatility is matched by that of 6'10" forward Odom, a 14.4 point, 8.7 rebound per game producer off the bench. He was mobile enough to play both the 3 and the 4 on both ends of the floor and at age 31, Odom had a career-season. He was likely going to regress this season based on his age (wrong side of 30) and the unlikelihood that he was going to shoot the lights out again around the rim and from the perimeter.
In this trade, Houston was going to get their hands on Gasol, a much-needed presence in the middle for the Rockets, while they would be giving up one of the better scorers in the league in Kevin Martin (23.5 points per game) and their best interior presence, Luis Scola. It was a financial issue for Houston after re-signing Scola last season for five-years, $47 million, while Martin was in the last year of his contract, due to make $13 million and would command much more on the open market. With budding young star Kyle Lowry running the point and Jonny Flynn backing him up, Houston would have had one of the best pick-and-roll combinations in the league, one that would surely command defensive attention. On draft night, Houston acquired the rights to Lithuanian forward Donatas Motiejunas, Chandler Parsons and a protect first round pick from Phoenix. Gasol would still allow Houston to be competitive while the Rockets' front office re-tooled and rebuilt the team into a contender.
New Orleans is obviously at the heart of this deal. League-owned, the trade created a "conflict of interest" if you will for the teams across the league. One issue attempted to be resolved in the 2011 NBA Lockout was competitive balance- allowing small market and large market teams to compete on a more level-basis; this trade would have been the biggest violator of the 149-day fight- sending one of the smaller markets' best players in Chris Paul to the Lakers in L.A. - Small market teams owners were furious with the league, allowing this trade to move forward up until the 11th hour when it was finally nixed. But let's take a look at the Hornets in this offseason. Paul had publically announced his frustration with the team and let it be known that he had no plans to re-sign with the Hornets when his contract was up at the end of the season. New Orleans was also likely to lose power forwards David West and Carl Landry, two of the more coveted free agents this offseason. The acquisition of Odom, Martin and Scola would have been an excellent building block for the team moving forward in addition to center Emeka Okafor. They were also getting a 2012 first-round pick from Houston (by way of the Knicks) at the same time. It was not even close that the team was getting the best end of this deal.
So why did the league veto the trade? Angry team owners demanded the trade be nixed based on the new labor pact that was designed to prevent small market teams like New Orleans being raided of their stars from larger market teams. As a result, Paul will not be reporting to the Hornets camp this week and instead explore legal options with the NBA Players Association.
On the same day the NBA players and owners ratified a new deal, more legal action appears likely to follow.