Why the NBA Killed the Chris Paul Deal

The owners acted against their own economic self-interest in barring the Hornets point guard from joining the Lakers

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I'm not religious. But I'm an Old Testament guy. By which I mean: I believe that there's a more powerful human force than love, or even the love of money: our intrinsic desire for justice.

Which brings me to the Chris Paul trade that wasn't.

By now, you probably have seen the news: New Orleans Hornets star point guard Paul was set to join the Los Angeles Lakers yesterday in a three-way trade involving the Houston Rockets. As detailed elsewhere, the swap was a potential win-win-win from a basketball standpoint, essentially fair, with each club standing to lose and gain something:

* Los Angeles would have received one of league's 10 best players in Paul; lost a pair of talented big men in Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom; risked taking a step backward via Paul's surgically-repaired knee and/or a shorter, less effective front court;

* Houston would have received Gasol, one of the game's top centers, with cap room left to chase other free agents; lost high-scoring guard Kevin Martin and rugged forward Luis Scola, two solid starters;

* New Orleans would have received three to four quality NBA starters, instead of getting bupkus when Paul departs as a free agent next offseason.

Shake hands, sign the necessary paperwork, voila. Done deal. Right? Wrong. The NBA nixed the arrangement, actively acting against its own economic self-interest. The league cost itself money—potentially big money—by saying nyet. How so? The Hornets are currently owned by the league. Which is looking for a buyer. A buyer willing to shell out hundreds of millions to either prop-up and/or move a financially shaky operation. A franchise that soon is going to lose its most valuable asset in Paul anyway.

What looks more attractive to prospective buyers?

(a) The Hornets without Chris Paul;

(b) The Hornets without Chris Paul, but with a credible group of players that includes Martin, Scola, Odom, Goran Dragic and a future extra No. 1 draft pick—a group of guys who can actually play, right now, or be flipped for youth/more picks in a future rebuild.

If you answered "A," congratulations: You now understand why you can't afford an NBA franchise in the first place. In essence, the league just decided they didn't want to bother with cleaning, repainting, adding a bit of crown molding, and otherwise fixing up the house they're trying to unload; instead, the NBA is doing nothing—and by doing so, deliberately and willingly costing itself money. 

To put things another way: A sizable number of the league's 29 owners— reportedly the small-market faction —decided on purpose to reduce the future sale value of the Hornets. They acted against their own bottom line. (They also acted to undercut the credibility of their entire joint venture, but that's another column entirely).

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Patrick Hruby is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He has contributed to Sports on Earth, ESPN.com, and Washingtonian magazine, and his work has been featured in The Best American Sports Writing. He is a former adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

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