Friday, December 9, 2011
Sources: Teams lobby over Paul ruling
By Marc Stein
The three teams involved in the Chris Paul trade blocked Thursday by NBA commissioner David Stern are lobbying the league for Stern to reverse the decision, according to sources close to the process.
There is no indication yet that Stern is prepared to reverse course after taking the dramatic step of blocking the league-owned New Orleans Hornets' decision to deal Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers.
In a statement released Friday, Stern said the "final responsibility for significant management decisions lies with the commissioner's office in consultation with team chairman Jac Sperling.
"All decisions are made on the basis of what is in the best interests of the Hornets," Stern said. "In the case of the trade proposal that was made to the Hornets for Chris Paul, we decided, free from the influence of other NBA owners, that the team was better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade."
There is no formal appeals process to reverse the ruling. The teams, however have pushed to have the NBA reconsider.
NBA spokesman Tim Frank said Thursday the deal was blocked for "basketball reasons." The league is trying to sell the club.
But the primary argument being presented to the league office for allowing the deal to go through -- as agreed to in principle by the Hornets, Lakers and Houston Rockets -- is that the NBA's decision would appear to force the Hornets to keep Paul for the rest of the season, despite the fact he can opt out of his contract and become a free agent July 1 and leave New Orleans without compensation.
A trade of Paul elsewhere, according to the teams' argument, would mean Stern and the league are choosing where Paul would play.
The proposed trade would have sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to the Rockets and furnished New Orleans with three top-flight NBA players in Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and Lamar Odom as well as playoff-tested guard Goran Dragic and a 2012 first-round pick that Houston had acquired from the Knicks.
Odom said he was disoriented by the deal and didn't know how to proceed. It looked as if he had made up his mind to stay away from training camp, but he did end up showing Friday, albeit 1½ hours late. He didn't practice, however, talking to general manager Mitch Kupchak and then leaving.
"Man, I'm just in total disbelief about all of this," Odom said Thursday. "They don't want my services, for whatever reason. I don't know what I'm supposed to do. I was proud to be a Laker, so I'll try to help them in the process as much as possible."
The general reaction among rival executives was that Hornets general manager Dell Demps did as well as he could under the circumstances after Paul told the Hornets on Monday he would not sign a contract extension and instead planned to become a free agent July 1.
But Stern stepped in to nix the swap and leave all three teams with shell-shocked players and officials heading into Friday's start of training camps, after the commissioner insisted for months that Demps and the rest of the team's front office had autonomy over basketball decisions. Sources close to the situation said Demps and teams that have pursued Paul had been assured the Hornets had the clearance to trade Paul as they saw fit.
In an email to Stern obtained by Yahoo! Sports, The New York Times and Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert called the proposed deal "a travesty" and urged Stern to put the deal to a vote of "the 29 owners of the Hornets," referring to the rest of the league's teams.
Numerous sources close to the process expressed skepticism that the deal has a chance of being revived, amid a growing sense the league is now determined to keep Paul in New Orleans for an unspecified length of time -- perhaps even for the entire season -- to support the notion that lockout wasn't for naught and that the new labor deal has improved small-market teams' ability to retain star players.
The problem there, of course, is that the Hornets -- believing they had avoided the drama that engulfed the Denver Nuggets for months last season until they finally traded Carmelo Anthony -- are left with a disgruntled star who can still opt out of his contract and leave the franchise with nothing as of July 1.
Stern's decision to block the deal has likewise raised the question of whether New Orleans can trade Paul anywhere until a new buyer for the team is found, because any deal that does go through could create the appearance that Stern hand-picked the destination.
Outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who voted against the NBA's new labor deal, agreed with the league's reversal, saying it would have been hypocritical coming hours after the CBA was ratified.
"The message is we went through this lockout for a reason," Cuban said Friday on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM's "Ben and Skin Show." "Again, I'm not speaking for Stern. He's not telling me his thought process. I'm just telling you my perspective, having gone through all this. There's a reason that we went through this lockout, and one of the reasons is to give small-market teams the ability to keep their stars and the ability to compete."
Cuban has been trying for years to trade for Paul but said he would have understood the league's decision to deny a trade even if the Mavericks would have agreed to a deal to get Paul.
"I mean, obviously, I wouldn't have been happy, but I would have understood because it was a conversation a lot of owners had long before the Laker deal was consummated," Cuban said. "It was like, 'Look, sure, I'd love him. Give him to me in a heartbeat.' But the whole idea of the lockout was to prevent stuff like that.
"Players will always have the right to choose what they want to do as a free agent, but the players agreed to rules that said, 'You know what? Let's give the home team, the incumbent team an extra advantage.' And that's how the rules were designed. I think they're going to work."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Information from ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon and The Associated Press was used in this report.