The news that absolutely consumed my twitter feed today was the news that Chris Paul was going to be traded to Los Angeles for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Apparently the NBA owners did not think this was a good idea, because rumours have it that the decision was made to veto such a deal (the NBA owns the Hornets). Wages of Wins analyst Devin Dignam made the point that, instead of helping out the other NBA owners, vetoing the trade would actually help the Lakers.
The Lakers dodge a bullet
While Chris Paul is undoubtedly the best player involved, this trade has some problems with it. Gasol and Odom were responsible for 30 of the Laker’s wins last season, so despite Paul’s individual greatness, the proposed trade would still leave LA at a deficit. A bigger problem is that Pau and Odom are great bigs. These players are rare in the NBA. Letting go of both of these players for Chris Paul means that the Lakers would have to replace their bigs.
While it’s possible the Lakers might be able to make more moves to get some replacement bigs, the simple fact is they are trading two great players for one great player. Sure he’s younger and more talented, but the trade actually harms the Lakers. As Chris Paul’s contract expires in a year, a better idea might be to amnesty Kobe, sign Paul and enjoy several years of Paul, Gasol and Odom.
The league shoots itself in the foot
The move was just as confusing from the NBA’s perspective. The NBA has been worried about placating small market teams. Ironically, in this case, placating the small market owners actually hurts small market teams! If the trade had gone through, the Lakers would have ended up winning fewer games, and that would have given the other teams in the league a better chance of winning a championship. If the other owners wanted to screw over the Lakers, the best thing to do would have been to let the Lakers do it to themselves.
But there are more confusing aspects to this blocked trade. The lockout was allegedly a result of losing money. If the NBA wants to make more money, one of the best ways is to get a star in a big market. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are credited with revitalizing the league in the 80s. Putting two stars in two big markets helped revitalize the league? Shocking! Some of the NBA’s best years were with Michael Jordan. Guess what that was? Are we really convinced that having Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett (sorry E.J and Patrick!) in small markets during the 2000s was good for the league? Getting Chris Paul in LA would’ve been great for the NBA.
And even if we buy the competitive balance argument, the NBA blocking this move is bad. If every team wants a chance at being a competitor, then every team needs chances to get players. If player movement is restricted, then so are the odds that any given team can compete. The NBA owners are all upset they didn’t get Chris Paul. They would rather have him in New Orleans — which gives them a chance to trade or sign for him — than in Los Angeles, where he’ll flourish. This kind of thinking doesn’t help competitive balance, it doesn’t help the players, and it doesn’t help the fans. In fact, all it does is prove that the owners have no idea what they’re doing. I guess it’s a good thing they’re not in charge of the league’s major decisions.