Chris Paul Veto: Commissioner Power or Collusion?
David Stern, as commissioner of the NBA, has the ability to veto a transaction on behalf of the league if he feels it would be damaging.
There isn’t necessarily a requirement in the NBA charter that requires him to explain himself.
When the New Orleans Hornets agreed to trade Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers, Stern stepped in to void the deal for basketball reasons.
With help from the Houston Rockets, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Lamar Odom and the New York Knicks 2012 pick were set to land in New Orleans.
That’s quite a score, even if the Hornets would be giving up one of the best point guards in the league.
Of course Paul has no intention of re-signing in New Orleans, so the exit isn’t a matter of if but when.
Pau Gasol would go to the Houston Rockets, who would then have enough cap room to make a credible offer to free agent center Nene.
The Lakers would yield an All-Star power forward in Gasol and the reigning Sixth Man of the Year in Odom but no picks. They’d have gained multiple trade exceptions, most notably one for Odom’s salary at $8.9 million.
Suddenly LA would have financial flexibility moving forward. They’d have one of the best backcourts in the league, perhaps in franchise history. Maybe a run at Dwight Howard (for Andrew Bynum) would be next.
In the short-term, the Lakers would have a severe lack of depth up front and while they certainly had other moves in mind, many pundits suggested the Lakers might be worse off initially after the trade.
Note that the numbers didn’t quite add up in the deal as leaked to media. The framework was set but the Hornets still had to shed additional salary to make the math work.
All this is moot, however, because of basketball reasons.
Paul . . . Upset
Paul was obviously not happy with Thursday’s result after getting a deal to one of his top choices kyboshed by the commissioner.
There’s some serious doubt that he’ll show up at camp on Friday in New Orleans and, with the union, may even be considering legal action.
What’s unclear is venue and timeframe. Legal matters aren’t usually decided quickly and time in the NBA is measured at times in hours not months.
What exactly would Paul be claiming? Is this an antitrust violation? Did Stern abuse his power and violate the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)?
For the most part, by the union voluntarily entering into an agreement with the owners, collectively, the same rules that would apply to a non-unionized job might not apply.
Was it Collusion?
At first glance, the NBA owns the Hornets. Owners block moves their general managers might try to make all the time, why is this different?
It’s different because the NBA owns the Hornets.
Inside of NBA’s CBA are clauses that prevent collusion.
Just as a player like Joe Smith can’t make an under the table deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves, teams can’t work together to try and control player movement involving the players on third-party players.
The NBA itself is a collective body. If that group, made up of the other 29 teams, was making player personnel decisions for the Hornets, they’d be colluding.
To counter that, the league set up a separate, independent body to make such decisions.
Jac Sperling was appointed governor, the final say on moves with authority independent of NBA ownership.
General Manager Dell Demps was giving the task of finding the best deal for the Hornets, not an easy task.
After many, many months, he found his deal.
Stern, representing ownership of the Hornets, had no authority to step in and stop the deal without it representing an act of collusion.
That’s why the words “basketball reasons” were used. That’s not Hornets’ Stern – that’s NBA Commissioner Stern.
But is that line clear? Why is this move worth voiding when any number of deals over the last few years could be considered one-sided (a la LeBron James to the Miami HEAT for a trade exception – to the Cleveland Cavaliers – that may have already expired)?
Is it because the Lakers got Paul? More importantly, is it because other owners took exception to the Lakers getting Paul?
The NBA denied it had anything to do with other owners and had entirely to with basketball reasons but then an email from Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert (leaked by Yahoo! Sports) implored Stern to put the trade to a vote (with the 29 other owners).
Gilbert complained that the Lakers would save a lot of money which in turn would not go as luxury tax to teams like the Cavaliers. Then he complained that LA would get a trade exception, which counter to his first argument, would allow the Lakers to spend more money (which LA fully intended to do, relatively quickly).
Of course Paul was set to sign a new significant five-year deal next summer with the Lakers, but in this case Gilbert’s inconsistencies really aren’t the story.
It’s more the comments, “I just don’t see how we can allow this trade to happen. I know the vast majority of owners feel the same way that I do.”
Now the NBA can try and write the letter off as immaterial. Stern’s decision was made before ever reading the email, they would say.
Still, Gilbert’s email represents collusion. Taking a vote? That’s just not how this sort of thing works legally within the rules of the CBA.
A judge might look at the gray areas and find, at a minimum, that Paul, the Lakers and/or the Rockets has a case worth hearing.
The odds would probably be slim for the Lakers or Rockets to make a case against the NBA, but stranger things have happened. In fact just yesterday some very strange things happened.
How quickly something like this could come together? Another key and questionable issue.
Equally, a judge might just point to Stern’s power as commissioner and just disregard the gray areas as insignificant.
There’s a pretty wide berth of interpretation here and frankly a lot of undiscovered facts.
As is often the case, other legal minds might look at this account and come to a very different conclusion.
This is a new area for the NBA.
Players, agents, general managers, other owners, fans . . . strident Laker-haters even . . . almost all seem united in disdain for Stern’s decision.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Paul from here. Can he be traded anywhere? Was this completely subjective because it was the Lakers?
Given the level of income the Lakers will bring into the league over the duration of the 10-year CBA, does it make sense to single them out and stop them from trying to win titles?
Even Kwame Brown for Pau Gasol proved to be a positive for the Memphis Grizzlies, with all things considered (Marc Gasol, room to acquire Zach Randolph, etc.).
If Stern wakes up on Tuesday with a different point of view, he could green light a modified version of the deal. Perhaps the Lakers give up a conditional future first, with protections that even favor LA.
The argument could be made that, now improved, it is no longer a detrimental deal because of basketball reasons.
While the haul isn’t Chris Paul, would the Lakers have interest in a two-way trade with the Rockets bringing back the same return of Martin, Scola, Dragic and the New York pick?
Of course what LA really needs is a starting point guard and Dragic, with Derek Fisher, Steve Blake and Darius Morris on the roster, doesn’t make nearly the same sense Paul would.
Scola would be a reasonable Gasol replacement if LA coveted Martin but he plays the same position as Bryant.
Perhaps the Lakers, if Paul is out, looks to see if the Orlando Magic would be open to a Bynum/Dwight Howard swap . . . although sources say Howard hasn’t aggressively pushed out yet and that he may be pushing a move to the New Jersey Nets.
The future is anything but clear.
Thursday was supposed to be a day of celebration. The lockout was finally over.
The players would return to work, with frustration simmering underneath the facade after a difficult extended summer of negotiation, but on the surface nothing but a smile and “It’s good to be back.”
Time would heal the wounds except the NBA just opened up a brand new one on Thursday, one that doesn’t yet appear to have a clean resolution.