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Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Different Hollywood Ending: Chris Paul Joins the Clippers, Not the Lakers

The L.A. Clippers made a major bid for citywide supremacy--if not more--by obtaining Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets. Unless the Lakers counter with some deals of their own the 2009/2010 NBA champions may become the second best team that calls Staples Center home. Blake Griffin seems poised to become one of the NBA's 10 best players and if Paul--the runner-up in 2008 MVP voting--returns to form then the Clippers will have a deadly inside-outside duo. Meanwhile, the Hornets sidestepped the nightmare scenario of losing Paul for nothing after this season and acquired young, relatively inexpensive talent that can either form the foundation for a rebuilding process or else be packaged to acquire other assets.

However, while the potential upside for the Clippers is very obvious, few people seem to appreciate that there is some risk involved. Eric Gordon, the soon to be 23 year old third year guard who the Clippers shipped to the Hornets in this transaction, arguably was just as good a player as Paul was last season (Gordon averaged roughly six more ppg than Paul, while Paul averaged roughly five more apg than Gordon--though apg numbers in general and Paul's numbers in particular must be taken with a grain of salt) and it is far from clear how much Paul's balky right knee will affect the rest of his career: for most of last season it did not seem like Paul had his former explosiveness and there is some question about how much cartilage is left in his surgically repaired knee. I am not convinced that a handful of good playoff games against the ancient, nearly immobile Derek Fisher prove that Paul completely returned to elite status (and, even against Fisher, Paul faded by the end of the series). Penny Hardaway looked poised to be a perennial All-NBA player until knee woes derailed his career and a knee problem just ended Brandon Roy's career at age 27. Paul is much smaller than both of those guys and thus quickness is an essential part of his game; not only must he be quick to be effective but he must put a lot of stress on his knees on a nightly basis just to play his normal game, while bigger guards like Hardaway and Roy could at least spend some time on the block and/or find other ways to get by at times without having to simply blow by people.

It is certainly possible that the Griffin-Paul tandem will turn the Clippers into perennial contenders for the next several years--but it is also possible that Gordon will emerge as an All-Star while Paul sits on the bench in street clothes and Griffin throws down monster dunks for a .500 team. We all understand why the Clippers made the trade and it is good for the league that Donald Sterling is trying to win as opposed to just being satisfied with making money but if we learned anything from last season it should be that there is no such thing as a sure thing no matter what a team looks like on paper or on a spreadsheet.

Lakers' fans will undoubtedly be furious at this turn of events, because on the surface it looks like Commissioner David Stern--by vetoing the deal that would have shipped Paul to the Lakers and then approving the deal that sent Paul to the Clippers--intentionally damaged their team. The Lakers now not only do not have Paul but, seemingly as a direct result of the fallout from that failed trade, they also lost the services of Lamar Odom after the Lakers subsequently shipped the now-disgruntled sixth man to the Dallas Mavericks. It is clear that as long as the league owns the Hornets there will be an appearance of a conflict of interest and thus the NBA should find a new owner for the team as soon as possible. That said, Lakers' fans should realistically look at their team: the Mavericks did not just beat the Lakers in last year's playoffs, they humiliated the Lakers and thus vividly demonstrated that the Lakers are now at a crossroads. Kobe Bryant is still a great player but it is doubtful that he can just score 40 ppg for a month to carry his team the way he did in his prime; in order to contend for at least one more ring during Bryant's career while also preparing for his inevitable decline and retirement, the Lakers must get younger and more athletic. Frankly, I don't think that acquiring Paul for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom would have made the Lakers any better and I also think that the loss of Odom can be overcome if the Lakers ultimately use their remaining assets to bring in Dwight Howard. The Lakers' championship window with the previous roster closed last season with Phil Jackson's retirement/Pau Gasol's playoff disappearing act, so the Lakers' only realistic hope to win the 2012 title hinges on pairing Bryant with Dwight Howard. Otherwise, the Lakers have to get younger in a hurry and hope for the best. The Lakers open the season with back to back to back games and without the services of Andrew Bynum, who will miss the first five games of the season as a result of his cheap shot against J.J.Barea in game four versus Dallas; I think that the Lakers should seriously consider sitting out Bryant for the second game to preserve his knee for the stretch run, though I doubt that Coach Mike Brown will try this or that Bryant would accept this if Brown mentioned it.

It may superficially seem like the lockout was pointless because as soon as it ended Dwight Howard and Chris Paul tried to maneuver their way out of small markets to seek their fortunes in big markets but that is a shortsighted view; the owners locked out the players to fix the NBA's broken business model and that meant making two major adjustments: changing the BRI split and creating a system that strongly encouraged elite players to remain with the teams that originally drafted them. We all know that the owners won the battle over BRI but the owners also made major system changes, many of which seem to be not fully appreciated yet by the general public. The so-called Derrick Rose rule will make it very expensive for future young stars to spurn their original teams, while the escalating luxury tax will make it very expensive for teams to stockpile max contract players. If the NBA owners had sought to put in provisions to specifically restrict Howard and Paul then (1) the lockout could have lasted for years and (2) the players would have had very good grounds to sue (and win); Howard and Paul are entitled to become free agents under the terms of their contracts and thus they have the leverage to force their way out of Orlando and New Orleans respectively--but they will likely be the last elite players able to do so (at least without sacrificing tens of millions of dollars while also costing their new teams hefty luxury tax assessments).

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:15 AM

17 comments

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17 Comments:

At Thursday, December 15, 2011 9:35:00 AM, Anonymous Ilhan said...

Great read David, especially about the risks involved for the Clippers.

Many people in the media should apologize for, or at least come clean about, what they wrote about Stern and the nixed deal, and of course they will not. I was of a mind with the pundits that the Lakers-Houston deal was the best possible for the Hornets and that Stern nixed it solely because Paul was going to the Lakers. But now, they have Eric Gordon, Aminu, Kaman and Minnesota's pick for a player who would leave in any case. Color me impressed with the savy of Stern. I was wrong. The only negative on the Clippers side for me is that they are owned by Sterling and he will be the one to enjoy that very probable success as an owner.

I just hope that the Lakers can get Howard. Inadvertently or not, they have been sabotaged by the league office. If Kupchak's explanations are to be believed, Odom had to be traded. I appreciate Odom's biography and what he had to go through, especially in terms of the death of his child, but his sensitivity with respect to the nixed deal was simply ridiculous. I get being offended for being waived or being traded for a lesser player, but how can you be offended for being traded for, arguably, the best player of his position? That has nothing to do with your not being valued or your services not being wanted.

On an unrelated sidenote: We all know that your favorite player is Dr. J and you have dedicated much of your writing to making sure Dr. J the basketball player, especially at his absolute prime in the ABA, is appreciated. It might interest you that recently many ex-players, including Erving's once teammate Barkley, had the opportunity to talk about him. And, this would probably not surprise you, in a 9 minute segment, they have managed to utter not one meaningful, significant word about Dr. J's game, stats or how good he really was. Until reading your work on him and especially about his ABA stats, his 76 finals etc., I had thought of him merely as this precursor to Jordan in terms of playing above the rim and as a high flyer without a decent outside shot. And the only images I was familiar with were from his older, past-his-prime years in the NBA. That mistaken perception needs to be challenged in fairness to the guy, yet even Barkley and Kenny Smith, the two guys you'd think would be more than familiar with Erving's legacy, are reluctant to really speak about him. Here is the youtube link to said 'Open Court' segment:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYHx0swrJu4

 
At Thursday, December 15, 2011 3:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Ilhan:

I don't believe that Stern intentionally damaged the Lakers but I think that it is an inherently bad situation when the league owns one of the teams, particularly in a case like this when the team is faced with a crucial decision about a franchise player who can depart next summer as a free agent if he is not traded now.

As I indicated, if the Lakers do not get Howard then they are in trouble, at least in terms of realistically being able to contend for a championship during the remainder of Kobe Bryant's career.

I have watched each of the Open Court shows and, while they are entertaining, they lack a certain depth; this could be because of the questions that are asked and/or how the footage is edited. I have interviewed several of those players and I know that Steve Kerr and Kenny Smith in particular are capable of giving very thoughtful responses to intelligent questions. It seems like the show is geared more to generate humor than to generate an in depth discussion; in essence, it is a one hour advertisement for TNT/NBA TV's broadcasters.

 
At Thursday, December 15, 2011 4:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's no question in just about anyone's minds that stern seriously damaged the lakers (the rockets too) for the near future. You can bet kobe will consider leaving if the lakers don't recapture their recent success, and if I'm a GM, I'm lowballing every offer I get from kupchak because they are dealing from an extreme position of weakness.

If you know anything about basketball, that trade was in the works for months. For stern to nix it at the last minute shows that stern is no longer fit to run the nba. Unless it's ok to act like a tyrant - and a stupid one at that. The lakers and a few other teams have kept the nba afloat for years and this is how the lakers are treated? Idiots like Gilbert are quick to complain about a trade but are silent when it comes to observing how this has damaged the rockets and the lakers.

Let's not forget in the last 10 or so years, the lakers have gone through quite a bit - shaq leaving, jerry west leaving, rudy t, phil coming and going, the phil and jeanie drama, kobe trial, kobe requesting a trade, bynum injuries and the endless fighting within the buss clan. No doubt the lakers have done pretty well considering, but that's because they are an excellent organization that had some good breaks. Lesser organizations (Cleveland comes to mind) would have crumbled under that pressure.

Stern should be a man - and admit his mistake (whether he was closely following it or not. A public apology would at least show the fans and the teams that he has some respect for the process. Clearly that is not part of his character. Stay classy Stern!

 
At Thursday, December 15, 2011 7:14:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree with you that Stern should not have vetoed the original deal but I am not convinced by the rest of your argument. Stern has a long record of success as NBA Commissioner--think back to the state the league was in before he took the job--so one questionable decision does not justify saying that he must resign.

The various situations that the Lakers have faced over the past decade--some of which are of their own making--have no bearing on Stern's decision. I believe that Stern tried to act in the best interests of the Hornets but the situation inherently involves a massive conflict of interest, so the real problem is allowing matters to reach this point before the team was sold to an independent owner. Of course, the NBA's broken business model at least in part explains why the NBA has had a difficult time selling the team and Stern and the owners were absolutely right to resort to a lockout to fix that broken business model.

Gilbert put enough talent around LeBron James to win 66 and 61 games in back to back seasons plus make a Finals appearance in a prior season. Let's see how successful the Arison/Riley group is with James, Wade and Bosh before we declare Gilbert to be an "idiot"; year one in Miami did not yet surpass what Gilbert's Cavs accomplished in previous seasons.

 
At Thursday, December 15, 2011 8:33:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the other anonymous:

While Stern should not have interfered with a LEGITIMATE trade, I don't agree with the general idea that Stern damaged the Lakers. If anything, the veto was actually good for the Lakers (Jim Buss doesn't seem to be as smart as his dad). Gasol + Odom is too steep a price to pay for Chris Paul. Size matters. The popular rumor was that getting Paul would enable the Lakers to get Dwight Howard. For who? Artest + Bynum? Why would the Magic do such an idiotic thing? If that trade were to happen, that should be the one that Stern vetoes.

The veto seriously damaged the Rockets? What are you talking about? They would have gutted their team and all they would have gotten was Gasol. We already know what Gasol + mid-level players can do. It would have been a sideways move at best.

Gilbert should just keep his mouth shut but there is no denying that he did the best that he could considering he never had Lebron's support.

David, what are your thoughts on Billups as the 2-guard? I like a team with 2 legitimate playmakers.

 
At Friday, December 16, 2011 2:38:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sharp

The group of players/picks that the Clippers sent to New Orleans may in fact be a better haul than what they were set to receive in the nixed 3 team deal (although I think that it's very arguable, besides Minnesota's pick). But the bottom line is that Stern's decision to kill the original trade was the wrong one, for many of the reasons you highlighted here.

As a Laker fan, this upsets me for several obvious reasons. The Odom trade may have long term benefits, but it's hard to see them given the limbo the team currently resides in.

However, most of my anger is directed at Stern and the NBA itself. The reasons for which Stern killed the original 3 team deal remain unclear. Did Stern somehow developed legitimate concerns over what the Hornets were receiving? Seems unlikely, given the fact that Demps had kept the NBA in the loop through the process, and that wasn't an unfair trade by any objective measure. The other explanation is that Stern caved to the owners who protested another superstar leaving a small market for the bright lights of the big city. But given the fact that Chris Paul still wound up in Los Angeles at the end of the day, what was the damned point?

The person I feel the worst for out of this is Dell Demps. He was forced to negotiate a trade with little to no leverage, as everyone and their grandmother knew that Paul wasn't going to stay in New Orleans. Nevertheless, he managed to arrange a deal where he'd receive three borderline all stars out of it. He's clearly a capable enough GM, but was publicly emasculated by the league. If Wojnarowski and his sources are to be believed (and I consider him a very reliable source), then Demps doesn't even have the option of sticking up for himself lest he find himself permanently on the outside of the league looking in.

A little off topic, but since I'm ranting already...getting a little sick of Dwight Howard's flip flopping over trade demands. How easy is it to talk this dude into saying something? I know he's a nice guy and doesn't want to upset people, but sending mixed feelings is only going to make it worse in the long run. For years people have been talking about him eventually going to the Lakers. He talks about how much he loves Orlando, wants to be there forever, but also loves the opportunities of a bigger city. Then he meets with Prokhorov and now he wants nothing more than to play for the Nets. Then he meets to new Magic CEO and wants to stay in Orlando until the day he dies again. And now he's back to demanding a trade. Dude needs to just be honest with himself and the team about what he wants (which by all indicators is that he wants out). Get it over with: there's always going to be hurt feelings somewhere.

 
At Friday, December 16, 2011 3:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I think what the other anonymous meant is that the fallout of the vetoed trade was that the Lakers dealt Odom to Dallas without getting a player in return. Of course, it is not Stern's fault (or responsibility) how Odom or the Lakers reacted and I agree with you that the vetoed trade did not favor the Lakers but I still think that it would have been best for the league to avoid this kind of conflict of interest and I certainly understand why Lakers' fans are frustrated at both the Commissioner and their team's front office.

Paul and Billups certainly can and will be on the court together at times but I think that if the Clippers play them together for 30-35 mpg they will be a bit small defensively; Billups can guard some shooting guards for certain stretches of time but asking him to regularly guard players who are much bigger than he is would be a bit much at this stage of his career. I am not sure how much of a playmaker Billups can be if he is on the court with Paul because the ball is going to be in Paul's hands most of the time. The Clippers may experiment with putting Billups at shooting guard but I suspect that ultimately he will be the backup pg while also playing spot minutes at shooting guard depending on matchups.

 
At Friday, December 16, 2011 3:54:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Sharp:

It is understandable why the league preferred the Clippers' deal to the earlier deal; the Clippers' deal provided the Hornets with younger players and smaller contracts, two key selling points (literally) in the league's quest to find an owner who will keep the team in New Orleans. Nevertheless, it still looks (and is) bad when the league owns a team and cancels one trade only to accept another; David Stern essentially handpicked where Chris Paul will play for at least the next two seasons.

I think the "point" of what happened is exactly what Stern said--he wanted to do a deal that would be best for New Orleans--but the appearance (and reality) of a massive conflict of interest makes that difficult for many people to accept. Ideally, the league would have sold the team before this happened but--contrary to what you may have read or heard--the league did indeed have a bad business model prior to the lockout and thus the league could not find anyone willing to buy the team.

I think that most of what the Magic and Howard are saying for public consumption is nothing more than a smokescreen: Howard wants out and the Magic have to trade him before the trade deadline--those are the facts and the rest is just fodder for talk shows, which is why I won't write much about this subject until Howard is actually traded.

 
At Friday, December 16, 2011 2:28:00 PM, Blogger $9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

The team that should be angry is Houston. They spent two weeks on this deal and a few vindictive owners and Stern inflicted collateral damage on innocent Houston in their war on the Lakers. The compressed free agency means that those lost 2 weeks left Houston witch scarce options.

Do you think that while Stu Jackson chatting over the trade with the Clippers, he also let them know a $2m bid would get Chauncey? He was running both at the same time, so its easy to imagine the tip as a kind of good faith sweetener, "toss in Gordon and I'll give you Chauncey for cheap".

 
At Friday, December 16, 2011 3:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

9WO:

The larger issue is not which team was hurt the most by the vetoed trade but the fact that there is a huge conflict of interest when the NBA owns a team and then makes (or does not make) trades with other teams. Even if Stern's intentions were good the situation itself is awkward and is not good for the league.

I don't put much credence in the kind of conspiracy theory you mentioned regarding Billups; it is very easy to formulate a conspiracy theory to fit any situation: if Billups landed in Miami then you could say that the NBA is favoring the Heat, while if he landed in Boston you could say that the NBA is favoring a storied franchise on the East Coast. The most important fact regarding Billups' amnesty situation is that the NBA made it clear that if he did not report to the team that claimed him--something that Billups (or at least Billups' agent) threatened to do, because Billups wanted to go to a contender--then he would have to retire and thus forfeit the remainder of his contract. Players who are released under the amnesty clause do not get to choose their next destination and cannot be traded in the same season.

 
At Friday, December 16, 2011 9:07:00 PM, Anonymous Ilhan said...

David, I think you are awfully quick to brush off the doubts about the Billups situation as yet another example of the usual NBA conspiracy theories. The situation and the conflict of interest for the NBA in it distinguish it from the usual lottery fixing, referee tampering conspiracies. The league owns a team that it needs to sell, in order for which it needed to get a young player with promise in return. What was the difference between the first and the final Clippers deals? It was Gordon. Are you really this comfortable with the fact that the league office was in direct negotiations with the Clips for Gordon and concomitantly presiding over a closed bid for Billups? I think that you'd be less willing to call such doubts about conflict of interest situations 'conspiracies' in a political context. I don't see what's so different here.

It is one thing to say 'we'll probably never know what happened, so let's not spend time and energy on speculation', and another to say 'that's a conspiracy theory'. The latter invalidates the worries, which are, to me, spot-on. There needs to be some sort of legislation to make sure that such a situation does not occur again.

 
At Saturday, December 17, 2011 2:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Ilhan:

I made it clear from the start that I disagreed with the way that the NBA voided the first Chris Paul trade and that I think that the NBA placed itself in a horrible conflict of interest--so I am in no way at all defending how the NBA handled this situation. However, the events that actually transpired do not fit the script for some grand "conspiracy"; Commissioner Stern said that he wanted the Hornets to get the best possible deal and the deal the Hornets ultimately got was better than the first one because the Hornets got players who are both younger and less expensive. I just don't see Billups' signing as some game-changing scenario that had to be achieved by nefarious means to make the deal work. If anything, I suspect that if the Clippers had really known that they were going to get Chris Paul then I doubt that they would have signed Billups in the first place.

 
At Saturday, December 17, 2011 5:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lakers fan here: I for one certainly did not want the Paul trade to go through, and either did several other fans I know. It gave up too much for a guy with iffy knees, although the prospect of a 26 year old all-star was enticing; but nor do I believe the Lakers are a top three team in the West, let alone a top 5 team in the league as they stand, with age, and uncertainty, and trying to get acquainted in a short season under a new coaching plan. While still competitive and tough defensively the next three years could get pretty rough.

 
At Saturday, December 17, 2011 5:48:00 PM, Blogger West Coast Slant said...

Great article as always David. One quick note, Houston got screwed the most in this whole situation having spent the last four years building up assets to trade for a top-15 player like Gasol. While, I agree Gasol alone wouldn't have made that much difference, the Rockets would have become a much more desirable location for Nene. Teaming Nene with Gasol, while still having Kyle Lowry, and a slew of young players with potential--Terrence Williams, Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, Johnny Flynn-- could have made Houston a very dangerous team.

As for the Clippers, I feel they will ultimately regret trading away Gordon. One thing the NBA lacks now, is elite shooting guards. In two years, Gordon could be the best shooting guard in the league, while Paul, if he isn't already, could potentially be considered (only) a top-10 point guard due to his knee and the progression of all of the other elite, young point guards in the league.

Furthermore, the Clippers had all of the leverage in the negotiations after landing Billups (still a very capable floor general), and yet, Gordon and their 2012 Minnesota pick went to Stern...er, the Hornets. This makes me buy into the idea that Stern did some underhanded dealings in order to get Sterling to buy into the trade as it turned out. I mean, after the Clips landed Billups, they pulled their offer off the table saying the price was too high. Then, suddenly, a day later, they give the Hornets almost all of what the NBA wanted. Fishy fishy fishy.

 
At Saturday, December 17, 2011 5:49:00 PM, Blogger West Coast Slant said...

(cont.)
The Clippers now have three former all-star point guards (and a young, hyper athletic point guard) and no shooting guards (Foye doesn't really count). The team's young, energetic depth, which would have been invaluable in this compacted season, is now completely depleted. Before the trade, they were two-deep at every position (featuring seven former/current or soon-to-be all-stars). Furthermore, the only good shooters on the team, all play the same position as Paul, meaning, defenses are going to collapse on Jordan and Griffin. Lob city is going to be more like charity stripe cottage. And, seeing as how Griffin and Jordan both struggle at the line, they're going to have to improve a LOT if lob city is going to work. This notion that Jordan is Chandler-esque is silly. (One of the many things Chandler does far better than Jordan is shoot freethrows).

So, despite the fact that the Clips have sold out every home game for the rest of the season, I honestly think they aren't any closer to a championship with Paul. Now, if they had waited until this coming Friday to make the deal, no way Gordon AND the Minny pick are in Nawlins. And the Clips with a Paul and Gordon backcourt with Blake and whoever is championship caliber.
All the Clips had to do was use their leverage to their advantage. I mean, even if they missed out on Paul and kept the team with Billups and Gordon as their backcourt with a bunch of young, talented depth, they would have been a threat to at least make the second round (where I have the Clips probably going now).

I just don’t like the fact that Sterling caved when he did. The Hornets (who prior to dealing Paul had six players under contract) would have missed out on any relevant free agent by Friday, filling out the roster with D-leaguers and not-worth-it veterans, and probably would have handed out some ridiculous contract to an unworthy player just to make the 80 percent payroll minimum. Plus, they’d be dealing with a lame duck team with a very, very disgruntled superstar. And every day that went by, the media and bloggers and league players would be voicing their loud opinions on twitter and in the papers and Stern would be looking more and more like an old fool who needs to go for having nixed the Lakers/Houston deal.

 
At Sunday, December 18, 2011 1:35:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree with you that the proposed Paul trade would not have been particularly good for the Lakers. The Lakers need to find a way to acquire Dwight Howard. Their other priority is to find a young, quick point guard (not necessarily a star but even just a solid player who can run an offense and stay in front of quick guards on defense) and then their third priority is to improve their depth, preferably while also getting younger and more athletic.

 
At Sunday, December 18, 2011 1:39:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

West Coast Slant:

I don't believe that nefarious forces were at work with the Paul trade to the Clippers but I can't prove that (just like you can't prove that nefarious forces were involved)--and that just point to the real issue: the NBA should have never gotten itself into a situation in which the league office decided where a premier player (when healthy) ultimately ends up for at least the next two seasons. This inherent conflict of interest naturally leads to conspiracy theories and the problem with conspiracy theories is that they are not falsifiable. No matter what happens going forward, no one will be able to convince you (and probably many other people) that something nefarious did not happen.

 

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