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NBA Commissioner David Stern vetoed a major trade that would have sent superstar Chris Paul to the L.A. Lakers, after small-market owners revolted over the deal.

The three-team trade would have sent Paul from New Orleans to Los Angeles in exchange for forward Lamar Odom and three members of the Houston Rockets, while the Rockets would receive Lakers center Pau Gasol in return. Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert sent an email to Stern calling the trade a "travesty" that would have allowed L.A. to save $40 million in salary and penalties, while acquiring the best player in the deal. Shortly after that, Stern rejected the trade, citing unspecified "basketball reasons" and insisting that the other owners weren't responsible for killing it.

Complicating matters is the fact that the New Orleans Hornets are actually owned by the rest of the NBA. The team filed for bankruptcy last year, before being bought out by the main office until a new owner could be found. That means the other 29 NBA owners own the Hornets and can back out of the trade simply because they changed their mind. However, New Orleans general manager Dell Demps was supposed to have full authority to make trades on his own and threatened to resign his post after having the trade rejected by higher ups. Now almost all trade talk around the league has stopped as teams and agents are unsure how to proceed with their own deals if the Paul trade will not be allowed to go through. Training camps are opening on Friday.

The recently-ended lockout was as much a battle between various factions of owners, as it was between the owners and players. Smaller outfits like Cleveland and Indiana are frustrated by the ability of traditional powers like the L.A., Boston, Chicago, and New York to take their best players, throwing off the competitive and financial balance of the league. The league claimed throughout the lockout that that most of its franchises were losing money, even as the top teams reaped huge profits. Trading Paul would lower the resale value of the Hornets (and the owners' investment in them) even further, while helping one of the league's richest teams get richer.

In addition, owners are also upset that players appear to dictating the terms of their own trades, only allowing themselves to be moves to the cities they want to play in. Stars like Paul and Dwight Howard of Orlando are under contract, but they are calling the shots on any attempts to trade them to other teams. The hope for some was that a new Collective Bargaining Agreement would allow teams like New Orleans to keep their best players from fleeing. Now just hours after the new CBA was ratified, owners like Gilbert (whose "comic sans" rant against his former player LeBron James is the stuff of whiny legend) realize that's not the case.

The trade may have proved to the small-market owners that nothing has changed, but Stern's move to appease them may have made the situation even worse. The trade was a good deal for New Orleans, who acquired several players and a draft pick for a superstar that would be leaving as a free agent at the end of the year anyway. It embarrassed Demps and undermined his ability to make future deals. It angers the players involved, who now have to return to locker rooms where they obviously aren't wanted. It won't sit well with the rest of league's players who already feel they were mistreated by owners during the lockout and now have even less reason to trust Stern.

Most of all, it's a huge black eye for a league that seriously needs to rebuild its image after costing fans two months of games because of the lockout. One NBA executive told Yahoo that Stern is "drunk on power, and he doesn't give a [expletive] about the players." Given the dictatorial nature of this move, It's hard to argue with that assessment.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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