Commentary

Chris Paul veto: Same old NBA

Owners may keep more money under new deal, but have-nots unchanged

Updated: December 9, 2011, 2:29 PM ET
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

Well, we've established some basic truths.

One: The NBA sure gets more interesting when the commissioner starts firing off imaginary six-shooters and acting like the sheriff of Mayberry.

[+] EnlargeChris Paul
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillRich teams will always be able to attract star players such as Chris Paul.

Two: It is apparently possible to veto a trade on the basis of, "But you're about to make another good deal after that, and that'd be wrong."

Three: "Basketball reasons" is this year's "Best interests of the game," a fully malleable phrase of nonsense that can be shaped and re-shaped to fit any definition that anyone in power cares to place upon it.

And four: Whatever the owners tried to tell themselves, the players or the fans about the new labor agreement, the one thing it most assuredly does not is prevent the rich from getting richer.

That last one is the one that is going to stick with David Stern the longest. No matter how many times Stern steps forward to explain that, yes, he does have the authority to nix a deal that concerns the league-owned New Orleans Hornets, his scuttling of the three-team trade that would've sent Chris Paul to the Lakers smacks of a desperate attempt to prevent L.A. from -- well, frankly, from being the Lakers.

The Lakers are rich. The Lakers have always made serious plays for top-shelf stars. The Lakers can afford to part with good players in order to receive better ones. And did I mention the part about being rich?

In other news Thursday, the Knicks emerged as front-runners for Tyson Chandler.

So I mentioned the rich part?

Until Stern's owner buddies get serious about sharing their revenue, this entire exercise, vetoing trades or signings because they make the league look bad, is going to be embarrassingly fruitless. Have you looked at L.A.'s new television contract with Time Warner? The Lakers are set to draw out $3 billion over 20 years. That's $150 million per year, enough to sign any number of Chris Pauls, whenever and wherever they become available.

(By the way, if the appeal by the teams involved fails, Paul almost certainly now walks as a free agent after the season, and the Hornets get nothing in return. So how, again, does holding on to a lame-duck Chris Paul for 66 games enhance the value of the New Orleans franchise?)

It was speculated that part of the reason owners wanted Stern to veto the Paul trade was that the Lakers were then going to attempt to also acquire Dwight Howard. Well ... yeah. Almost certainly. If you had the money to spend and were trying to build a champion, and there were absolutely no rules in place in the NBA to prevent you, wouldn't you do the same? (Now Howard might be headed to the Nets.)

And that's the thing that Stern has to come to grips with, now that he has permanently rewritten his legacy as NBA commissioner by blatantly tampering with an otherwise normal league transaction: This lockout, and its subsequent CBA, ultimately produced no radical change. It transferred a lot of future salary from players back to owners, yes, but it did not lay a foundation for a future in which smaller-revenue teams have more equitable chances to compete for the biggest prizes.

I'm not sure how urgent that point is in relation to the New Orleans deal, but then I found the three-way transaction among the Hornets, Lakers and Houston Rockets to be a basically fair-minded, even-keeled piece of negotiation. No matter how you view the deal, though, those thoughts were obliterated by Stern's act.

If Stern was pushed into wrecking the trades by the owners, then he is revealed as a puppet. If he acted on his own, he simply refuses to concede the obvious, which is that the CBA didn't work on the largest scale. Rich teams can still buy players that smaller teams wish they could keep.

Revenue sharing, as practiced by the NFL (which must be off to the side laughing hysterically just now), is a top-down commitment by all franchises to work in the true best interests of the league. It is the ultimate "basketball reason." Nice lockout.

Mark Kreidler is a longtime contributor to ESPN.com. His most recent book, "Six Good Innings," was named one of the Top 10 Sports Books of 2009 by Booklist. Reach him at mark@markkreidler.com.

MORE COMMENTARY »

ALSO SEE