Why David Stern pulled the plug Thursday on a reasonable (not ideal, but reasonable) three-team trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers is really simple:
The NBA owners want their power over star players back.
What LeBron James did scared most owners because he had the power — teams had to come to him and kiss his ring (figuratively) to get a shot at bringing him in. What Carmelo Anthony did scared the owners because he had the power and was able to dictate when and where he was traded.
So we had a five-month lockout where we listened to the owners and players fight over “system issues.” Make no mistake, the owners wanted — and got — their money out of the lockout. But even when they got enough money to cover all their reported losses (financial figures nobody really believed) the lockout still wouldn’t end because of the system. Because of “competitive balance.”
Those were code words for “the owners wanted their power back over the star players.” They wanted smaller market teams in particular to be able to keep stars, and, if they did move their stars, to control when and where moves were made. It was a power struggle.
Then no sooner does the lockout end then Chris Paul comes out and says he is not staying with the New Orleans Hornets and he’d like to go to the Knicks. Which wasn’t going to happen because the Knicks had no good trade assets left, but the Lakers ended up being a good enough second option for Paul.
Paul had the power, and owners like Cavaliers Dan Gilbert freaked out. Read his email to David Stern — he sounds like a child who wants his way and is stamping his feet at the start of a tantrum.
This time, David Stern stepped in and killed the trade. And made things worse. He gave the league a PR disaster to rival the lockout itself. He angered executives around the NBA — even ones not involved with this vetoed trade — because it was a reasonable basketball trade killed for “basketball reasons.”
The bottom line is this was about power.
Chris Paul had it. The owners wanted it back and David Stern did their dirty work.
And the NBA is worse for it.