Keeping Score

The Clippers Get An All-Star: Chris Paul’s Strange Trip to Los Angeles

After a blocked trade, lawsuit threat, and outcry among NBA players, executives, and fans, Chris Paul is headed for Los Angeles.

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Lucy Nicholson/Files/Reuters

Chris Paul takes a breather during Game 5 of the NBA Western Conference first round playoff basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles, California, in this April 26, 2011 file photo

About a week ago, Chris Paul was headed for Los Angeles. Now, after a blocked trade, lawsuit threat, and outcry among NBA players, executives, and fans, Chris Paul is headed for Los Angeles.

On Wednesday, NBA commissioner David Stern, who at the final hour had nixed a deal last week that would have sent Paul, the All-Star point guard for the New Orleans Hornets, to the Los Angeles Lakers in a three-team trade, signed off on a deal that shipped Paul to Los Angeles’ black sheep of a basketball team, the Clippers. After Stern killed the trade in which the Hornets would have sent Paul to the Lakers in exchange for Lamar Odom from Los Angeles, and Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a first-round draft pick from the Houston Rockets (the Rockets would have received Los Angeles center Pau Gasol), players and fans were outraged. How could Stern, though who as titular head of the league-owned Hornets had every right to veto the trade, dictate where players suit up? The whole enterprise wreaked of being rigged.

(PHOTOS: David Stern’s Career)

But the rejection of the deal itself wasn’t odious. Rather, mangled communication – either Stern should have nixed the Paul-to-the-Lakers trade earlier, before the public was aware of its imminent consummation, or the Hornets needed to do a better job communicating the terms to the league office – confused, and wound up enraging, fans. One NBA team executive told NewsFeed, however, that the NBA’s rejection of the Paul trade was a simple business tactic. The owner of the Hornets, the NBA, is attempting to maximize the resale value of the franchise. The higher the selling price, the more income for the rest of the league. The deal that brought in Odom, Scola and Martin to New Orleans would have permitted the Hornets to field a competitive team. But these players are expensive, and Scola and Odom have are locked into three- or four-year deals. When you’re trying to sell, these long-term fixed costs are a deterrent.

The Clippers deal, on the other hand, give New Orleans Chris Kaman, a center whose contract expires following this season, Eric Gordon, a talented young guard who could grow into a franchise cornerstone, Al-Farouq Aminu, a second-year forward, and  Minnesota’s unprotected 2012 first round draft pick. This deal helps New Orleans build a future, with younger, cheaper assets that a new owner can toss aside if their value lags. “I knew we were doing the best thing for New Orleans and that was my job,” Stern said. “You have to stick with what you think was right. I must confess it wasn’t a lot of fun, but I don’t get paid to have fun.”

And by trading Paul to the Clippers, the NBA has created a second dynamic franchise in Hollywood. Paul will team with Blake Griffin, the Clippers’ freakishly athletic power forward, to form one of the most potent duos in the league. The 26-year-old Paul is a four-time All-Star, who averaged 18.7 points and 9.8 assists last season while Griffin had 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds in his first year as a pro. What’s more, Lakers-Clippers games will actually matter and Clippers games in general will gain some cache. The Clippers have long been the worst franchise in all sports. By trading Paul to the Los Angeles, the NBA has lifted the Clipper malaise.

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