In an update to her memoir "Laker Girl," written by longtime Los Angeles sportswriter Steve Springer and published by Triumph Books, Jeanie Buss recalls the Los Angeles Lakers' "almost-trade" for Chris Paul and the eventual departure of fan-favorite Lamar Odom.
In this excerpt, Buss, the Lakers' executive vice president of business operations, takes us behind the scenes during NBA lockout negotiations during which her father was battling cancer, describes how the Paul trade negotiations came about and what her role was in managing the fallout after the trade was shot down by NBA commissioner David Stern.
In November, as we were getting closer and closer to an agreement with the players, my father made what would prove to be his last trip to New York.
He was an integral part of the settlement. Commissioner David Stern and others in the league office valued my dad for his wisdom and experience. There were a lot of new owners in these negotiations who had not been through a lockout and didn't really understand the stakes involved. So my dad pushed himself, regardless of how he was feeling, to be available at this crucial time for the league.
Finally, we reached an agreement with the players in the last week of November. An owners meeting was scheduled for December 8 in New York to ratify both the collective bargaining contract and a new revenue sharing plan.
It was a very heated session. One smaller-market owner referred to cities like Los Angeles as "the glamour markets." He was including Miami, Manhattan, and Brooklyn in that group. Others chimed in, claiming that cities like ours are destinations that hold a huge advantage over so-called less glamorous cities when it comes to attracting free agents.
The passion flowed as the huge divide remained between the bigger and smaller markets. The marathon session stretched to eight hours. Some owners were not happy. They made it clear they would have been okay with canceling the season.
One owner said, "This deal isn't good enough. The Lakers, with their new TV contract, are still going to be able to get every player they want. They are going to blow us out of the water. It's not fair."
I had owners tell me, "We are going to fight for more and more revenue sharing. We can't beat you on the court, so we are going to take you on in the boardroom because that is our only hope."
My response was, sure, we want to win as much as everybody else, but we are good partners. We know there needs to be a level playing field that allows every team to compete, gives them a chance to win a championship, and provides them the opportunity to at least break even financially. We don't want to see a league where only five teams out of 30 can be profitable and succeed.
It was a very intense battle. Some of the owners were pounding David during those eight hours of negotiation, but he was like a ninja. He fought off every objection while striving for fairness and balance. The guy was amazing. He has an incredible ability to handle divergent opinions, reach compromises, and push through policies he feels are the most advantageous to the league as a whole. I honestly think that David, had he not become NBA commissioner, could have run a country.
Finally, he got the agreement ratified.
While this meeting was going on, negotiations of a different sort were also nearing completion. After several days of talks, the Lakers were close to consummating a trade with the Hornets. I wasn't part of that negotiation.
I had not even heard about it. I was locked in this meeting with the season hanging in the balance.
When we finally adjourned after the ratification, I immediately jumped into a cab and headed for the airport. As I boarded a plane, I noticed that my Twitter account was suddenly on fire.
The trade had been announced. Chris Paul was coming to the Lakers, Pau [Gasol] was going to the Houston Rockets, and New Orleans was getting Lamar [Odom] along with Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic, and a 2012 first-round pick Houston had obtained from the New York Knicks.
The Lakers and the Hornets, the two main teams in the deal, were the only organizations that could have made a trade at that moment. On all the other teams, the owners -- those who had to sign off on any deal -- were in the same room, zeroed in on ratifying the new labor agreement. Because of that, everything else was frozen. Does anyone think the Mavericks could have made a trade without Mark Cuban signing off on it?
Perhaps the league should have put a moratorium on trades during those crucial hours.
While I was in that meeting, neither my father nor my brother was present. They were back in L.A., free to deal with New Orleans. The Hornets were owned by the league at that time, and NBA officials had hired Dell Demps to be the team's general manager. They empowered him to be the team's ultimate decision maker on the basketball side.
So the deal was struck and it seemed like the Lakers had struck gold once again.
It was exactly what the small-market owners had said was going to happen.
Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was so incensed by the trade that he sent a scathing email to the league office. In it, he ranted and raved, basically arguing that soon the NBA would be akin to the Harlem Globetrotters (the large-market teams) playing against the Washington Generals (the small-market teams).
That email was soon leaked to the media by someone who wanted the basketball world to know just how unhappy some of the owners were with David.
To those owners, this trade was like getting a pie in the face. They had walked out of a meeting where David had made them all get on the same page to save the season only for them to hear, "Surprise! The Lakers just acquired Chris Paul."
That gave them their I-told-you-so moment. I believe that if we could have delayed the trade for 24 or 48 hours, perhaps their heads wouldn't have exploded. It was just that they felt no other teams had a fair chance to acquire Paul.
I had fallen asleep on the plane after my flight took off. When I woke up, I learned the deal had been rescinded. David -- for basketball reasons, he said, not because owners were complaining -- had negated the deal. I don't think David caved to the owners. The problem, in my opinion, was giving Demps the leeway to be the ultimate decision maker. As the general manager, he should have been required to get final approval from a higher level.
It was frustrating for us to lose Chris after we thought we had him. I called some of my fellow owners and asked, "What the hell happened?" A couple of them said the same thing: "Jeanie, look at the timing. If you guys would have just waited ..."
Many of them conceded that they didn't think it was a great deal for us anyway. It wasn't like we stole him from New Orleans; we were giving up valuable assets.
Personally, I had mixed feelings because I like Pau so much and didn't want to see him go.
Being traded only to wind up back with the team that tried to deal them away hours earlier was a weird situation for both Pau and Lamar. These were uncharted waters that one man was able to navigate while the other capsized.
The proposed trade affected Lamar in a way that made it difficult for him to focus or even attend practice. Pau, on the other hand, handled it really well, and acted as if the incident had never happened. I don't think he gets enough credit for his professionalism.
So the decision was made to move Lamar. Immediately.
I found out when my brother sent me the following text: "Traded Odom to Dallas for first-round pick. I think it might make it easier to make a big trade. Will keep you posted. Have a good night."
Well, at least I got a text -- Mike Brown was left totally out of the loop. He wasn't included in the discussions about trading Lamar, nor was he even informed the trade had happened until he came to practice the next day. It might have been nice if someone had at least said to him, "Plan on being without your sixth man. We are trading him."
While critics charged that the Lakers gave Lamar away for nothing, the fact is we got a trade exception that was later used to acquire Steve Nash.
Still, it hurt to see Lamar go. He was part of the soul of a winning team.
Even now, when Phil [Jackson] and I watch Clippers games, he loves to point out the many things Lamar does that make him such a unique player. Phil puts a different value on players than many others do.
Lamar had a terrible, terrible time in Dallas, and he really struggled on the court. I think that's because he's such an emotional person, he just couldn't shake the idea that he had been forced to leave a team and a city he loves.
But when he channels that emotion in the right way, he can be such an asset to a team in ways the fans never see. The captain of a team is the person who is out there meeting with the refs and showing leadership on the floor. But there are also guys like Lamar who can be an emotional force in the locker room on a one-on-one basis. He will reach out to a player who is down and boost his spirit and build up his confidence.
The Mavericks came here with Lamar for the first time on January 16, 2012. I invited his wife, Khloe Kardashian, to sit with me. I wanted she and Lamar to know they are still family.
The first thing I said to her was, "It wasn't me. I can't explain to you why he was traded." We always emphasize to people that this is a business first, but transactions like the Lamar deal are still painful.