A Look Back on the Vetoed Chris Paul to the Lakers Trade, 10 Years Later

A Look Back on the Vetoed Chris Paul to the Lakers Trade, 10 Years Later

NBA

A Look Back on the Vetoed Chris Paul to the Lakers Trade, 10 Years Later

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Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

This December will mark the 10-year anniversary of one of the biggest “what if” moments for the National Basketball Association over the last 20-plus years. It was December 2011; the Dallas Mavericks were coming off their first-ever NBA championship after beating LeBron James and the Miami Heat. However, the league was dealing with a lockout situation and after much discussion had planned for the season to start up on Christmas. 

Prior to Dallas winning the NBA title, the talk of the NBA was both the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers. Many thought these two teams, led by the two best players in the league, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant, would have been on a path to meet in the NBA Finals. However, Dallas had other plans and knocked out Kobe and the Lakers in the second round with a decisive sweep. 

So going into the 2012 season, the Lakers were determined to get back to their championship form and that meant going after another star player to pair with Bryant. Enter New Orleans Hornets point guard, Chris Paul, who had been unhappy in New Orleans and wanted to pair up with another star player. The combination of Bryant and Paul would have been lethal for opposing teams to deal with so when the news came out that the Lakers had indeed acquired the point guards’ services, fans and league members alike were in shock. 

In the proposed and agreed upon three-team deal with the Houston Rockets, it had Paul going to Los Angeles, the Lakers sending reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom to the Hornets, and All-Star power forward, Pau Gasol to the Houston Rockets. In addition, New Orleans would have received Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, and a first-round pick from Houston to complete the trade. 

In what looked like a good haul for the Hornets to part with their star player, it seemed that all teams involved were receiving as fair of compensation as possible. However, many around the league disagreed with the deal and called for then-commissioner David Stern, to veto the trade from happening. The league, which had purchased the Hornets from their former owner in 2010, decided to veto the move backed by support of other teams’ owners. In what Stern called “basketball reasons”, the Chris Paul trade never went through, and the trajectory of the NBA changed forever. 

About a week later, the Hornets did end up trading Paul to Los Angeles but to the Los Angeles Clippers, not the Lakers. This was the start of the “Lob City” Clipper teams and brought them back into contention. In the deal with Clippers received Paul and parted with players Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu, and a first-round pick. While the league could not have foreseen what would transpire after the moves were made, it is clear now that the trade for Chris Paul that was executed was much worse than the agreed trade that would have sent Paul to the Lakers. 

Eric Gordon, the main piece in the deal, battled injuries throughout his time in New Orleans and while he is still a decent player in the league today, never really lived up to his potential. The Hornets quickly fell off as playoff contenders and ended up being bad enough to earn the first overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. However, if the original trade had gone through, maybe the Hornets could have contended for a few seasons. 

The Hornets ended up selecting Kentucky big man Anthony Davis with that first overall pick and Davis was the cornerstone player for the Hornets franchise for many years. Ironically enough, many years after the vetoed trade, Anthony Davis forced his way out of New Orleans to join the Lakers and maybe this was the universe’s way of trying to make up for what had happened years ago. 

For the Clippers, the Chris Paul trade immediately lifted them into playoff contenders as he paired with power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan. The “Lob City” Clipper teams were some of the more exciting NBA teams to watch over the last ten seasons but could never get over the hump and even reach the conference finals.

The lack of success, among other issues, led Paul to force his way out of Los Angeles and to the Houston Rockets. Griffin was traded soon after and Jordan left for a hefty contract from the Dallas Mavericks. For all the “basketball reasons” that allowed Paul to join the Clippers, they never amounted to their potential. 

The hypocrisy of the vetoed trade to the Lakers is that the league has now seen many other star players team up together. The Lakers had plans of teaming former All-Star center Dwight Howard up with Bryant and Paul if the trade had gone through to match what Miami had done with LeBron, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh.

 Over the last 10 seasons, the NBA has entered what is called the era of player empowerment, which really started to take place in 2010 when LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. Since then, star players have moved all around the league to team up with other stars in the hopes of winning the NBA championship. While it should be noted that star players signing as free agents to create super teams is different than a trade happening, the principle remains the same about keeping a competitive balance within the league. 

However, you may want to look back at the trade, the real loser from this was none of the teams involved but basketball fans altogether. In what could have been one of the better duos in NBA history, basketball fans were robbed of the opportunity to watch Paul and Bryant thrive together. Much like in any situation with sports, there will always be “what ifs” but for the NBA the duo of Bryant and Paul would have been fun to see.

The Lakers and Heat would have likely been on a collision course to meet in the NBA Finals for years to come, something NBA fans were desperate to see. This vetoed trade killed the hopes of this dream matchup, and it never came to fruition. 

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