Rockets, Hornets stunned by Lakers dropping out of CP3 race

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After weeks of work that had a trade to send Chris Paul to the Lakers — a deal that was consummated once only to have David Stern crush it — the Lakers unexpectedly walked away from the deal Saturday.

Why? We’ll take a stab at that in a second.

But first, the Lakers move left the Rockets and Hornets shocked and with their plans for the future blown up, reports Ken Berger at CBSSports.com.

The Rockets, who were supposed to get Gasol in the various versions of the ill-fated, three-team Paul trade, were said to be disconsolate over the breakdown in the talks. League sources said Houston’s plan had been to acquire Gasol and follow it up by acquiring free-agent big man Nene with a four-year, $60-$64 million offer.

As disappointed as the Rockets and Lakers were, the Hornets’ coaching staff and front office were said to be in “collective shock,” according to a person in touch with key members of the team. The breakdown of the Paul trade sent the Hornets scrambling for another suitor for the All-Star point guard, who has made it clear he wants to be traded or will leave New Orleans as an unrestricted free agent after the season.

For the Rockets, it’s unclear if that bid would have been enough to land Nene, who reportedly has a $70 million offer from the Nets (although some sources dispute that figure). The Rockets would have been in the bidding and would have had an imposing front like of Gasol and Nene. But now, they have Luis Scola and Kevin Martin still.

For the Hornets, there are still suitors for CP3 but will they get a package as good as Odom, Scola and Martin (plus Goran Dragic and a pick)? The league said David Stern wanted younger players to rebuild, but those quality players could have been flipped for good young players in secondary trades. Just getting good young players is hard, teams don’t like to give them up. Besides, Chris Paul would re-sign with the Lakers so they would make that trade, but that may not be the case with the Clippers, Warriors or Celtics.

As for the Lakers and why they backed out? Here’s my guess.

Jim Buss, the guy running the team now and son of long time owner Jerry Buss, wants to make a splash and put his stamp on the franchise. That’s why the sharp move away from the triangle offense to Mike Brown in the coaching search. That’s why long-time staff perceived to be “Jackson people” were removed from the organization last summer.

Buss wanted Paul and Dwight Howard. He was greedy. And despite what Lakers fans (and L.A. sports talk radio hosts) think, that was never going to happen. If the original Chris Paul trade went through, the Lakers would not have had the pieces to get Howard in a trade. The price for Howard has always been to take on Hedo Turkoglu’s disastrous contract (without D-12 the Magic go into rebuilding mode and Turkoblu is an anchor on that). The Lakers would have had Chris Paul and could have offered Andrew Bynum, but they had no way to take back Turkoglu, too. They would have already surrendered Odom and Gasol.

With Howard pushing his way out in Orlando now, Buss got a picture of the true price of Howard, realized he needed Gasol to get him, and it came down to choosing Howard or Paul. He couldn’t have the dream of both. And the choice there is always Howard — great bigs are harder to come by. Howard is your bridge to the post-Kobe Bryant era.

So he pulled out. And left the Rockets and Hornets in limbo.

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.

Isaiah Thomas makes it clear he wants to stay in Boston

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It’s been a long time since there was so much discussion about whether a team needs to trade or just let go of an All-NBA and All-Star player at his peak who is clear and away a fan favorite.

Yet that’s where the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas find themselves. After landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft — where they will almost certainly take point guard Markelle Fultz — and with the Celtics looking a full couple steps behind the Cavaliers in the playoffs, the question about whether Thomas is part of the future in Boston has come up. He is a free agent in 2018 and are the Celtics willing to pay the big money it will take to keep him?

Know this, Thomas wants to remain a Celtic and win a Celtic. You can listen to his full comments above, but Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the money quote:

Outside of chasing Gordon Hayward, this summer the Celtics are going to focus on getter some frontcourt help, someone to help with rebounding and rim protection. They will look to get better, but Danny Ainge isn’t going to push all his chips into the middle of the table to make a gambit on immediate massive improvement. He will remain patient, building this team so that in three years and five years they will be a force in the East.

And the Thomas discussion likely gets put on hold for a year (unless there is a change of course and contract extension talks come up, but that’s only if Boston misses on Hayward and any other big targets).

Stephen Curry says talk of lack of competitive balance “disrespectful” to Warriors, Cavaliers

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This year’s NBA playoffs have been horribly lopsided and they lacked drama because we all knew where it was headed: Golden State vs. Cleveland. They were so dominant that between them they lost one playoff game so far. This has brought up discussions of competitive balance — we have seen the same Finals three years in a row, and we will almost certainly head into next season expecting a fourth. Then maybe a fifth.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry isn’t a fan of the lack of competition argument, saying it disrespects the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

“That almost is kind of disrespectful, because it’s not like it’s easy for us to get here. It wasn’t that at all. Us and Cleveland worked our butts off all year to put ourselves in a position to be playing for a championship. The league is as strong talent-wise across the board as it’s ever been. Every night we get challenged. Obviously, we had that one stat I guess, point differential, all year. We had a pretty solid showing in that respect. But, every night was hard. Every night was challenging. You can’t just sleepwalk through a season and sleep walk through the playoffs and expect to be here. You got to do something. You got to come out every night and prove yourself. Granted, anybody who was betting on who was gonna be in the Finals probably picked those two. It’s easy for them to say that and just wake up in June and see it happen. We had to put that work in all year long to make it happen.”

Curry is right in that nobody should question the work the Warriors and Cavaliers put in to get to this point, and that the other teams did not just roll over for them. Also, both teams did get a little lucky with injuries.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now there is a dominant team in each conference, and that sucks the drama out of the postseason. (Maybe a healthy San Antonio team could have pushed the Warriors, we didn’t get to find out.) Golden State has four of the top 15-20 players in the NBA, and that makes them a juggernaut — again, regardless of the work put in. Other teams don’t have much of a chance if the Warriors are healthy and focused, not in a seven game series. The fact that it was flukey circumstances that put a dominant team in each conference — there isn’t another LeBron James returning home, and out West it took a one-time salary cap spike to add Kevin Durant to a 73-win team — doesn’t change the fact this season has felt like a foregone conclusion from the start.

Right now we’ve got what we wanted and expected, the trilogy between the Warriors and Cavaliers. But if we head into next season expecting (and maybe getting) round four of this matchup in the Finals, is that good for the league? Why watch the movie if you know how it ends before it starts?