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NEW YORK – NBA teams went back to work Friday, which for Chris Paul meant going back to New Orleans.
And there was disbelief and anger around the league — and a commitment to try again to find him a new home.
Commissioner David Stern killed the Hornets’ first attempt at moving their All-Star point guard, but New Orleans general manager Dell Demps is working to put together a new deal.
“Yes. People are still calling,” Demps said. “People are still calling and we’re calling people, so we’re confident we can get a deal.”
Paul could have been in Los Angeles on Friday, ready to pair up with Kobe Bryant as the next star in Hollywood. That fell apart Thursday when the league, which owns the Hornets, rejected a three-team trade the club had agreed to for “basketball reasons,” denying the decision came about because of pressure on Stern from irate owners.
And instead of the immediate boost the league craved coming out the lockout with free agency and training camps opening, it found itself with another public relations disaster.
“That’s the first thing I thought. We just got done arguing for four or five months and everyone just wants to see basketball and now this. Huge controversy, again with NBA owners,” said Minnesota forward Anthony Tolliver, the Timberwolves’ player representative. “I just hope it doesn’t damage everybody and hope it doesn’t affect everybody in the whole league, which I think it possibly could. This is a really big deal because it’s everywhere, all over ESPN, all over every website, CNN, everything. It’s a really big deal.”
The 26-year-old Paul was seen walking into New Orleans’ training facility Friday wearing a black Hornets practice jersey but did not speak to the media.
“Being a really good friend of mine, like a brother to me, I’m frustrated for him,” LeBron James said after the Heat’s first practice. “I wish him the best. I know where his heart is and what he wants to do with his career. I support him and hopefully things get resolved, fast, for him and his family.”
Though he nixed the deal, Stern has reason for wanting the same teams to work something out. If not, and another team eventually makes a trade that is approved, it will be difficult to shake the perception that the league was dictating where it wanted Paul to go.
Demps said the team has resumed talks for Paul — to any team — and that he has been given autonomy to make another trade, one he hopes will keep the Hornets competitive now and create a promising future.
“We want to build the team where they’re good, they compete at the highest level and also have an opportunity for the future,” he said. “We don’t want to just put everything into this year. We want to be a good team that competes at the highest level, and we also want to start a developmental program.”
Maybe the other owners will like the next trade more.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told a radio station Friday that the league went through the lockout to prevent this very type of deal in which small-market teams lose their superstars. And a letter from Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to Stern clearly showed he, too, objected to the deal.
“I just don’t see how we can allow this trade to happen,” Gilbert wrote in the letter, which was obtained by Yahoo Sports and The New York Times.
He added: “I know the vast majority of owners feel the same way that I do.”
Utah Jazz president Randy Rigby said owners had no say in vetoing the trade, but applauded the move.
“I’m one who likes to see the market and teams that have invested in a player and helped develop a player have an opportunity to have that player be a long-time part of that community,” Rigby said. “As a small-market team, it’s very important. … We had a lot of years of success with certain players named John Stockton, Karl Malone, who invested and committed to a community. That community committed back, and we saw a lot of success together.”
Hall of Famer Magic Johnson took the opposite stance, writing on Twitter on Friday that it was the “wrong decision” by Stern and the owners.
Stern responded in a statement, saying the Hornets were “better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade.”
When James and Chris Bosh left their small-market teams to build a potential powerhouse with Dwyane Wade in Miami, it gave owners even more motivation to seek changes that would limit the big spenders’ advantages in the new collective bargaining agreement. Yet the idea of Paul in Los Angeles — on the very day the CBA was being ratified — served to make the entire work stoppage seem like a waste.
“We just had a lockout, and one of the goals of the lockout was to say that small-market teams now have a chance to keep their players, and the rules were designed to give them that opportunity,” Cuban told ESPN 103.3 in Dallas. “So to all of a sudden have a league-owned team trade their best player, particularly after having gone out and sold a ton of tickets in that market, that’s not the kind of signal you want to send.”
Though Paul has never said so, there has long been speculation he would leave New Orleans when he can become a free agent this summer. The Hornets have been working to make sure they get something for him, and the proposed deal Thursday would have netted them some talent in return.
The Hornets would have received Lamar Odom, last year’s top sixth man, from the Lakers, as well as forward Luis Scola, shooting guard Kevin Martin, point guard Goran Dragic and a first-round draft choice from the Houston Rockets. And the Lakers’ Pau Gasol would have gone to the Rockets.
That’s far better than the Hornets may get in another deal, since many teams are hesitant to offer their top players in case Paul intends to only stay one season.
Stern said Friday he also considered the Hornets’ business performance when killing the deal.
“Since the NBA purchased the New Orleans Hornets, final responsibility for significant management decisions lies with the Commissioner’s office in consultation with team chairman Jac Sperling. All decisions are made on the basis of what is in the best interests of the Hornets,” Stern said in the statement. “In the case of the trade proposal that was made to the Hornets for Chris Paul, we decided, free from the influence of other NBA owners, that the team was better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade.”
The Lakers’ Gasol took it in stride, ready to go back to work. He tweeted: “New day my friends. On my way to El Segundo for the first day of training camp …”
Scola chose humor, writing that he was on his way to the Toyota Center and that “this is going to be fun. The good thing is that the TC it’s on the way to the airport, just in case.”
Despite those positive attitudes, Stern’s statement generated plenty of anger as players reported to camps throughout the day. Bad feelings remain from the CBA negotiations, during which Stern upset players who knew they’d be making financial concessions with what they considered “take-it-or-leave-it” proposals. Paul was a member of the players’ executive committee.
“This is a perfect example of the things that were so alarming during the lockout, that the owners don’t want players to have freedom of choice and that doesn’t work when you’re dealing with the most talented people in the world at their profession,” said agent Mark Bartelstein, who didn’t have a player in the proposed deal.
“When you look at other entertainers, they get perform where they want. They get to make choices on what they want to do with their careers, what movie they want to be in, what city they want to perform in. Owners are doing everything they can to ratchet down freedom of choice for players.”