David Stern’s blamed the Rockets and Lakers for the fallout from the vetoed Chris Paul-Lakers trade. Stern blamed former Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak specifically for the deal falling through.
And now Stern is blaming Pelicans general manager Dell Demps.
A refresher on events: In 2011, Stern was serving as both NBA commissioner and owner representative of the New Orleans franchise (then called the Hornets). George Shinn had sold the Hornets back to the league, which was in the process of re-selling the franchise. Chris Paul requested a trade from New Orleans, and Demps agreed to send him to the Lakers in a three-way trade with the Rockets. The Hornets would have gotten Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick. But Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, not commissioner, he says – vetoed the deal. It’s standard for owners to exercise final say on deals of that magnitude, but Stern’s dual roles opened many questions about his true agenda. The Hornets then traded Paul to the Clippers for Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman and a first-round pick (eventually used on Austin Rivers).
It depends how much hindsight and supposition you want to apply, but Stern probably got New Orleans a better deal. Dragic developed into a star, and Martin and Scola remained quality contributors for a while, but Odom fell way off, and the Hornets would have likely been middling-to-bad with the initial trade. Younger players like Gordon and Aminu and Kama’s large expiring contract gave New Orleans far more flexibility. And though Gordon battled numerous injuries there, Aminu didn’t blossom until he left and Rivers was a disappointing top-10 pick (who also hit his groove after leaving), New Orleans got something else in the trade – a clear rebuilding direction. New Orleans was bad the following season and got the No. 1 pick, Anthony Davis.
Still, the episode casts a shadow over Stern’s legacy – from people who don’t understand Stern’s unique place as commissioner/owner and from people who do understand but are suspicious of Stern’s unknowable motives in keeping Paul from the Lakers.
So, Stern is still fighting perception.
“I didn’t do a great job of explaining it at the time. There was a trade that [New Orleans GM] Dell Demps wanted us to approve and I said heck no, but he had told [Rockets GM] Daryl Morey and [then Lakers GM] Mitch Kupchak he had authority to do it and he didn’t. I said no. We just settled a lockout and you want me to approve a basketball trade?”
“[Demps] had agreed to [trade Paul to the Lakers for] Kevin Martin and Luis Scola or something, and I said we can do better than that…. And the next trade was [to the Clippers for] Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu and what we thought was a really great draft pick, the 10th pick, which turned out to be Austin Rivers. At least those three and someone else [center Chris Kaman]. But Dell Demps is a lousy general manager and none of those players are currently with the team anymore, and he may lose Anthony Davis.”
This is wild! Forget for a moment whether Stern was right or wrong in his handling of the situation. He still holds a title with the league, “Commissioner Emeritus.” Though he has criticized teams before, for someone in his position to so strongly attack a sitting general manager by name like this is so extreme.
Just as Stern wasn’t wrong about the trade, he isn’t necessarily wrong here. Demps has a dismal track record, though he has upgraded his performance to questionable recently. And Davis might leave the Pelicans, a potential outcome that hangs over the franchise.
But – wow. This hell of a message from Stern, even considering his blunt and confrontational manner (which is on full display in Ballard’s excellent profile, which is worth reading in full).