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Thursday, December 8, 2011
Stars nearly aligned in Los Angeles

By Arash Markazi
ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles woke up Thursday morning with plenty of questions about their teams. It looked like they would be on the outside looking in as they have been recently when it comes to these types of game-changing transactions. Albert Pujols seemed headed back to the St. Louis Cardinals, C.J. Wilson looked like he would end up with the Miami Marlins, and Chris Paul was on his way to the Golden State Warriors or Boston Celtics.

In the end, they all did what most would like to do during the winter -- they came to Los Angeles. Well, almost. Um, stick with me here; it was a long day.

So early Thursday morning the Los Angeles Angels signed Pujols to a 10-year, $254 million contract and Wilson to a five-year, $77.5 million contract. Before fans were even able to celebrate the news over happy-hour cocktails after work the Los Angeles Lakers completed a trade to acquire Paul from the New Orleans Hornets for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. But by the time fans were finally able to get off work to toast the city's newest stars, the trade for Paul was killed by the NBA, which owns the Hornets.

Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant
For a short time on Thursday, it looked like Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant were going to share a backcourt.

Within a matter of 12 hours L.A. had acquired the best player in baseball, one of the best pitchers in baseball and arguably the best point guard in basketball and subsequently lost that best point guard in basketball before he was even able to get on a plane to Los Angeles for the start of training camp Friday.

As Paul so eloquently tweeted after he heard the news of the failed trade, "WoW."

On one magical day that this city will not soon forget, it nabbed two future Hall of Fame players and then suddenly lost one before they could even welcome him. It was a relationship so short that Kim Kardashian's 72-day marriage to Kris Humphris would be considered long-lasting in comparison.

Not since Shaquille O'Neal signed with the Lakers in 1996 or Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Kings in 1988 has Los Angeles been as captivated by player transactions. Thursday was the equivalent of Shaq and Gretzky coming to Los Angeles on the same day and then having the Gretzky deal nixed by the NHL. (Sorry Edmonton Oilers fans, I don't mean to tease you like that.)

It was a day when fantasy sports momentarily turned into reality for Los Angeles fans glued to their computers from the time they awoke until they went to bed. The early morning Pujols signing was quickly followed by the Wilson signing, which was soon after followed by the trade for Paul. Before the sun had even begun to set over the Pacific Ocean, Los Angeles fans had already shifted their focus to the Lakers acquiring Dwight Howard when the Paul deal suddenly fell apart. It was like being the chip leader at the poker table and then losing half your stack while holding a straight flush. As far as bad beats go, this one ranks right up there.

As crazy as this day was, Angels owner Arte Moreno had to wonder what else he could have possibly done to remain the top story for at least a couple more hours.

Normally, when you sign one of the three best hitters in baseball history to the second biggest contract in baseball history, you're guaranteed top headlines and control of the airwaves for at least a day. The Lakers were nice enough to give the Angels the spotlight for about seven hours before knocking them off by acquiring the greatest point guard this city has seen since Magic Johnson and then suddenly losing him before they could even start printing overpriced No. 3 jerseys.

Paul, a dynamic 26-year-old point guard, was essentially going to be the future face of the franchise. There wasn't going to be a six-year drop-off between Hall of Fame tandems like there was between Kareem and Magic to Shaq and Kobe. The genesis of this team's next great tandem would have been groomed during the final three years of Bryant's current contract with the Lakers and continue after he retires.

The only question was who was going to be the Kareem to Paul's Magic? Would it be Andrew Bynum, a 24-year-old with potential as great as his injury concerns, or Howard, who at 26 years old has already been the best center in the game for the past four years?

Now the bigger question is will the Lakers ever be able to make a trade for Paul again, and if not, how do they move on with Gasol and Odom after publicly trading both of them for a player they couldn't get?

Thankfully for the Angels, Major League Baseball couldn't block their signing of Pujols and Wilson, and because of that the Angeles will be a championship contender next year and for the foreseeable future. Sure, a 10-year contract is a long deal for a 31-year-old player like Pujols. But remember if Pujols continues at his current unprecedented pace he'll be in line to break some of the game's most storied records in an Angels uniform at the end of his deal, which would not be a bad trade off for a team that doesn't have a lot of history when compared to its freeway rival, the Dodgers.

There's no doubt Pujols will have plenty of headline grabbing moments during his time in Southern California, but on the day of his signing the bigger story is about the superstar that got away. It's an appropriate introduction for Pujols to a city that will forever be more enamored by drama and sudden break-ups than just about anything else.

Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLA.com.