The New Orleans Hornets and Houston Rockets appealed to the NBA office on Friday morning to try to convince David Stern to drop his veto of Chris Paul's trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.
League officials in New York listened to pleas from several Hornets and Rockets officials, but eventually closed down communication.
"I think they were bothered by the backlash, but it's hard to tell," one front-office source said.
Stern killed the Hornets' trade of Paul after several owners complained about the league-owned team dealing the All-Star point guard to the Lakers, league sources said.
Some owners pushed Stern to nullify the trade and that the Hornets be made to keep Paul on the roster for the foreseeable future, sources said. A chorus of owners were irate with the belief that the five-month lockout had happened largely to stop big-market teams from leveraging small-market teams for star players pending free agency.
The trade between the Lakers, Hornets and Houston Rockets had been consummated late Thursday afternoon, about the same time the league's owners and players were completing their vote to ratify the new collective bargaining agreement – an agreement that Stern had repeatedly said would help restore the NBA's competitive balance. League owners had watched last season as some of the game's biggest stars left for larger markets. LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat, and Carmelo Anthony forced the Denver Nuggets to trade him to the New York Knicks.
Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert called the proposed trade a "travesty" in an email to Stern and said he didn't know how the league could allow the deal to happen. The email, which was also sent to deputy commissioner Adam Silver and a handful of team owners and was obtained by Y! Sports, asked Stern to put the trade to a vote of the league's 29 owners.
"The owners half-pushed this, and Stern took it the rest of the way," a league source told Yahoo! Sports. "In the end, David didn’t like that the players were dictating where they wanted to go, like Carmelo had, and he wasn’t going to let Chris Paul dictate where he wanted to go."
Before Stern intervened, the Lakers had reached an agreement to acquire Paul in a deal that would have cost them Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, league sources told Yahoo! Sports. Under terms of the deal, the Lakers would have sent Gasol to the Rockets. The Hornets would have received Odom, Rockets guards Kevin Martin and Goran Dragic and forward Luis Scola, league sources said.
Houston had also agreed to send a 2012 first-round pick – previously obtained from the Knicks – to New Orleans as part of the package, a source said.
Hornets general manager Dell Demps had informed two of the other finalists for Paul on Thursday evening that he had a deal in place for Paul to go the Lakers, front-office sources said. All the players involved in the trade have now been told to report to their teams for the start of training camp on Friday. League sources didn't think Paul would appear, and Odom told the Los Angeles Times he might not attend the first day of the Lakers' practice.
Hornets officials are unsure how they should proceed with Paul. Will they have to keep him? Should they search for other trades?
"Will learn soon," one source said.
Demps is "disconsolate" over the heavy-handed move from the commissioner's office, a source told Y! Sports. Demps considered resigning his job on Thursday, league sources said, and had to be talked out of it. The Hornets had scored a terrific deal for Paul, a trade that was lauded by some of Demps' peers throughout the league. Officials involved in the trade talks said the league office was consulted throughout the negotiations, and there was never an indication Demps didn’t have the power to make a deal. In fact, several teams negotiating with New Orleans to get Paul asked the league office and were told Demps had full authority to execute a trade.
The NBA has owned the Hornets since purchasing them from George Shinn in 2010 and has been searching for a new owner for the franchise.
Stern listened to enraged owners on Thursday who insisted this trade went against the entire reason the owners pushed for the lockout, that nothing had changed, and yet it was Stern who made the extraordinary decision to cancel the deal. Demps tried to talk him out of it, league officials said, but Stern was absolute in his desire to kill the trade.
Paul had listed the Lakers as one of his preferred destinations, and it became a more clear choice for him on Thursday after the New York Knicks moved to the brink of completing a four-year, $58 million contract for free-agent center Tyson Chandler. The Knicks lost the salary-cap space they would've needed to sign Paul this summer, and the Lakers had been pushing hard to close a deal for Paul with Houston and New Orleans.
As one rival executive with strong ties to the league office said, “Stern cared about two things: selling that franchise for the best possible price and showing the players that they weren’t going to dictate where teams could trade them. But now, there’s no way that the league can allow Chris Paul to be traded at all; otherwise, Stern is basically deciding where one of the top players in the league is going versus having any fair process.”
Officials from New Orleans, Houston and Los Angeles were stunned Thursday night. The killed trade had ripple effects everywhere in free agency and potential trades, pushing the market into paralysis on the eve of training camps opening Friday.
"We were all told by the league he was a tradeable player, and now they’re saying that Dell doesn’t have the authority to make the trade?" said an NBA executive who had periodic talks with New Orleans throughout the process. "Now they’re saying that Dell is an idiot, that he can’t do his job. [Expletive] this whole thing. David’s drunk on power, and he doesn’t give a [expletive] about the players, and he doesn’t give a [expletive] about the hundreds of hours the teams put in to make that deal.
"How do the Lakers explain this to Odom? How does Houston deal with the guys it just tried to trade? Scola and Martin are going to be pissed at them, and who knows how long that takes to get over? Explain to me how the league kills this Pau Gasol deal, but allows Kwame Brown for Pau Gasol?
"To me, this makes the league feel like it’s rigged, that Stern just does whatever Stern wants to do. He’s messed up the competitive balance of this league a lot worse by killing the deal because you’ve completely destroyed the planning that New Orleans and Houston did and left them in shambles over this. I’ve never been so discouraged about this league, never so down.
"I mean, come on: Chris Paul is leaving New Orleans in 66 games. He’s gone. And what’s Dell Demps, and that franchise, going to have to show for it?"
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