So where are Chris Paul and Dwight Howard going?


Dec 9

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When the New Orleans Hornets’ trade of Chris Paul to the Lakers was revealed Thursday, the first thing I thought about was Bowie Kuhn in 1976 invoking the Best Interests of Baseball clause to stop the Oakland Athletics and Charlie Finley from selling his stars Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to the Red Sox and Vida Blue to the Yankees, baseball’s version of the big market steal.

In a shocking and unprecedented move for the NBA, Stern Thursday invoked a similar proviso in overturning the big Chris Paul trade to the Lakers. It was termed by a league spokesman as rejected for “basketball reasons,” a form of invoking a best interests clause.

It was said the Board of Governors, which was meeting in New York Thursday to give final approval to the new labor deal, had nothing to do with the trade rejection.

But owners had everything to do with it as the NBA had put itself in an untenable position by purchasing the Hornets. I had been hearing for weeks as rumors of a Paul trade grew about ownership concern of a star being traded and potentially affecting the value of a franchise the owners share and then enriching a competitor.

It was said Mavs’ owner Mark Cuban was among a significant group of owners who were outraged, and in a sentence I never expected to write: “Mark Cuban was correct.”

How can the NBA allow the Hornets, which Cuban partially owns, in effect, trade its best player and a perennial All-Star, a player, by the way, Cuban might want to pursue on his own, to one of his prime competitors?

The answer is, they can’t.

And so the trade had to be cancelled until the league can find a buyer for the Hornets.

But the deal was likely rejected by the league under pressure from owners because it probably was a precursor to the Lakers also adding in trade Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic. The lockout to supposedly even the playing field for more teams was designed in part to limit players from dictating locations and forming a few elite teams and to leave the rest of the league unbalanced and fighting for scraps.

To me, the league’s move suggests Howard isn’t going to get to the Lakers as Stern has established the precedent to reject that sort of lopsided deal, and it opens the door for numerous teams to make bids but perhaps more so to provide the impetus for Howard to remain in Orlando.

Yes, there is free agency, and yes the players’ union likely will fight this. But Finley lost when the court decided the commissioner does have the right, at least in baseball, to act in the best interests of the game. Which is exactly what a commissioner is supposed to be doing. One can say Stern has not been doing that with the lockout. Perhaps it’s not too late to try.

And it’s not like there hasn’t been other precedent for halting deals. The baseball union, of all organizations, stopped the Alex Rodriquez trade to the Red Sox because Rodriquez was taking less money, the view being it lowered the market and wasn’t good for the players. It’s happened before and the game didn’t dissolve.

It’s right for the NBA because with Miami’s free agency coup last summer and with the Lakers heading to a similar three star bonanza, it would have continued to make the NBA even more uncompetitive than before. And in that sort of case, isn’t it the commissioner’s responsibility to act in the best interests of the game?

You at least have to give a new owner a chance to make the decision if they want to trade Paul, and how can the value of the team not decrease if you are getting rid of the team’s best player and only star?

Actually, New Orleans didn’t do badly in the three-team trade on relatively short notice by acquiring Lamar Odom, who likely would have been divorced by his Kardashian for leaving L.A., Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a New York first round pick held by the Houston Rockets.

I can’t imagine what the Rockets were thinking by giving up all that for Pau Gasol, though their deals are always curious and no one ever seems to know what they are doing. I assume it was new coach Kevin McHale saying he’d turn Gasol into the next McHale. Though the Hornets likely could have been competitive for a bottom playoff spot as they needed to add players to their roster, I suspect they would have been off loading all these 30-somethings for young players and picks.

OK, but shouldn’t a new owner have the chance to do that? The league basically is saying, “We can’t change the roster until there is a new owner,” and that is right.

This was a concern when there was talk Paul might be joining Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony in New York. Why should the Bulls sign onto that with their money? Similarly now for the Lakers or Suns or Warriors or Spurs.

But perhaps the league also is trying to do what it should have in the collective bargaining is put up some serious road blocks, not to players being paid, but to players being able to monopolize all the top talent into just a few teams and hold teams hostage to their whims. That is not good for basketball and not good for the league’s fans.

This is basically unchartered territory for the NBA, so we don’t know what will happen from here. The league could reverse itself, but I hope not. Who’s upset here? Lakers fans? Tough, Jack. I can’t imagine Hornets season ticket holders upset about not seeing Kevin Martin jacking shots or Odom, known to be interested about half the time, cutting that in half.

It was the culmination of a wild opening day for the new 66-game season with practices beginning Friday.

It also suggested what the owners also feared in the new labor agreement that I know wasn’t grudgingly accepted. I think Stern pushed them into it to not lose the season, but the Chris Paul deal was just too much and perhaps for the first time in his tenure Stern was bowing to the demands of ownership, no matter how silly that sounds.

Owners wanted more protection basically from themselves, but they apparently couldn’t get it in negotiations and it was evident already Thursday as Tyson Chandler reportedly agreed to a four year/$60 million deal with the Knicks. Ridiculous, of course, but also showing that the problem with the NBA is not overspending on bad players as much as there are not enough good players to spend on. So you have to spend on mediocre ones.

There were reports Clippers restricted free agent DeAndre Jordan coming off his super 7.1 point and 7.2 rebound season was getting a $55 million offer. Caron Butler, who’d been wooed by the Bulls, passed on his chance to be with a winner to play for the dysfunctional Clippers at more money, three years and about $24 million. Tayshaun Prince got $27 million to return to the Pistons, and here’s a partial list of signings and offers from Thursday’s business:

Tyson Chandler, Knicks
Jamal Tinsley, Jazz
Caron Butler, Clippers
Shane Battier Heat
Eddy Curry, Heat
Chuck Hayes, Kings
Jason Kopono, Lakers
Tracy McGrady, Hawks
Jason Collins, Hawks
Tayshaun Prince, Pistons
Jonas Jerebko, Pistons
Mike Dunleavy, Bucks
Keyon Dooling, Celtics
Marquis Daniels, Celtics
T.J. Ford, Spurs
Roger Mason, Wizards
Richard Jefferson, Spurs amnesty
Shannon Brown, Suns
Sebastian Telfair, Suns
Greg Oden, Blazers
Jeff Pendergraph, Pacers
Jamal Magloire, Raptors
Luther Head, Bulls camp
Michael Sweetney, Celtics camp
Mike Wilks, Wizards camp
DaJuan Summers, Hornets

On a parochial note, the Bulls didn’t make any move of significance Thursday. But their road may have gotten a little easier heading out west.

In the opening games, the Lakers have to be in turmoil with half their team returning after apparently being traded and the Warriors players can’t be all too happy after a number of deals fell through and they were left with nothing after offering several of their players and trying to sign free agents and being universally rejected. And then against the Clippers, Luol Deng gets a chance to go after the guy the Bulls apparently were talking to about taking over at small forward, Caron Butler.

But the Paul trade veto is going to be the story of camp and the early season throughout the league. What powers does the commissioner really have? Is this the end of the super friends joining up around the NBA and does this open the door to which teams getting involved in potential trades for the likes of Paul, Dwight Howard and others. Or are they destined to stay in a new NBA order?

There were reports later of Howard wanting to go to the Nets, apparently never having spent enough time in Newark with a police escort to go every two blocks. Now, if guys want to go to New Jersey as free agents instead of Chicago, there’s something going on we don’t know about.

And that was just the first day. Yes, this could be a very entertaining season.

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