When news came out Friday that Lamar Odom reportedly has a bad drug problem, Lakers fans, including myself, were a bit blindsided, yet not entirely surprised. While Odom never showed signs of someone who could have a drug addiction, there’s no doubt something happened in his life after he demanded the Lakers trade him late in 2011. His stint with the Mavericks failed miserably, then showed overweight and out of shape to the Clippers. To his credit, he worked hard, got himself the closest he’d be to the 2010 Lamar Odom we’d seen in a while, and was a productive member of the squad. However, signs started popping up when no one, including the Clippers themselves, seemed to want Odom on their squad.
It’s easy to sit back and wonder why? Why would someone who was so famous, doing so well, coming off a Sixth Man of the Year award, crash land so badly? Or maybe, what if? You see, Odom’s anger at the Lakers that led to his demanding of a trade stemmed from his inclusion in the vetoed Chris Paul deal that brought the All-Star point guard to the Lakers and sent Odom to the Hornets. From that moment on, Odom, who was always an emotional player and person, felt betrayed by the Lakers organization and, well, as we’ve found out, it all went downhill from there.
That single vetoed trade forever changed the landscape of so many lives, franchises, and cities. Because of David Stern’s oft-debated nullification, the Clippers became relevant, the Rockets did not land Pau Gasol, meaning they’re not there when the Thunder and James Harden come calling. The Lakers took a long, frustrating downward spiral and the Hornets, instead of fielding a competitive squad, bottomed out and drafted Anthony Davis. None of this is even taking into account any of the indirect effects; would the Thunder have traded Harden at all, would the Lakers have traded for Dwight, would Dwight have stayed in LA? To say this one decision drastically altered the landscape of the NBA would be a vast understatement. It changed lives, both negatively and positively.
For the Lakers, the consequence of this failed trade are hard to quantify. Obviously, missing out on a superstar like Paul, who would have eventually taken the torch from Bryant and become the new face of the Lakers, was hard to recover from. Having to face two crucial players in Gasol and Odom they had just nearly traded away couldn’t have been easy, considering Odom refused to rejoin the organization. Fortunately or not, Gasol was more familiar with the rumors of his departure on top of being an unwavering professional, meaning he came back into the Lakers fold without any noticeable discontent with the front office. Worse yet, the pieces the Lakers dealt away in order to acquire Howard weren’t involved in the Paul trade, meaning, hypothetically, the duo could have joined Bryant in Los Angeles and carried the Lakers to future success. Paul and Howard’s friendship is well documented, which could have led to an extended partnership in the purple and gold.
Across the hallway, the Clippers were one of the beneficiaries of the veto, swooping in and landing the superstar for what would become next to nothing. Pairing Paul with the athletic Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan led to many a highlight reel play, as well as much success. Without a doubt, the last two seasons Los Angeles has been Clipper Town, no longer Laker Land. The Clippers rise to relevance coincides with the Lakers fall from grace. Many players have jumped ship and played roles in the Clippers success, namely Matt Barnes and Odom last season. Whereas we see the Lakers have dozens of question marks regarding their future, the Clippers quietly sealed theirs up with the resigning of Paul, setting them up for another half-decade of success.
The Rockets benefited from Stern’s veto, but not until down the road. Had the proposed trade gone through, the Rockets would have parted with Luis Scola and a vital first round draft pick for Gasol. For cap purposes, the deal would likely have forced the Rockets to include a couple throw-in players of some sort. As a result, they wouldn’t have had (A) as many assets for future blockbuster deals and (B) as much cap space to take on contracts. Would they have completed the Harden deal after acquiring Gasol? Would they have had the assets to convince the Thunder to make a deal for Harden? And if the proposed trade goes down, Howard likely has no interest in Houston, instead focusing his sights on LA, where his services are desired and a friend (Paul) just joined the team. Nevertheless, with or without James Harden, their cap space for 2013 would be much more limited, possibly to the point of not being able to offer max contract, meaning they don’t get their Harden-Howard pairing heading into next season.
Determining whether the Hornets benefited or suffered from the veto isn’t as clear cut. On one hand, had the trade went through, they would have trotted out a Goran Dragic-Kevin Martin-Trevor Ariza-Scola-Gasol starting unit with Emeka Okafor, Jarrett Jack, and Marco Belinelli off the bench. That’s certainly a playoff team, but not a title-contending team and a core of players with a limited window for success. Instead, they took on young players in Al-Farouq Aminu and Eric Gordon, bottomed out without much contribution from either, and got themselves a budding star in Anthony Davis, nabbed Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday this off-season, but are still a couple years away from being a truly talented squad. Was bottoming out for a string of high draft picks a better option than fielding a competitive, playoff team for 2-3 years?
The move impacted the league indirectly in more ways than can be written. The reputation of Stern took a big, negative blow. Paired with the lockout which had just ended and Stern went from great NBA commissioner to plotting, evil-minded, stubborn old man in a few short months. Despite growing the league into the global empire it is now, for Lakers fans, Stern will long be remembered for the Chris Paul trade over everything else. After shaping the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) in a way to make it more difficult for big market teams (Lakers) to land superstars (Paul), Stern saw that very thing unfold in front of him just days after the lockout ended. We may never know what Stern’s intentions were that fateful day; whether he truly vetoed the trade as owner of the Hornets, or simply used that excuse to send a message to owners and general managers around the league, which is exactly what did happen. Had the Lakers walked right out of the lockout and brought Paul from small market New Orleans to huge market Los Angeles, would the lockout have really solved anything? Would the mindset of other GMs have changed? Would the lockout be seen as a waste, with teams continuing business as usual despite new CBA rules?
In a different universe, or more simply in a different time and state of the league, Stern might approve of the deal on behalf of the Hornets and as NBA commissioner. His ironclad fist that smashed down that day, however, shaped the league in an entirely different manner. He sent four different franchises into four directly different paths, for better or for worse. Worse yet, he sent the lives of various players into vastly different directions, with Odom by far the most glaring example of that. It’s certainly not right, nor fair to point the finger at Stern for Odom’s alleged troubles since the veto, and not what I’m suggesting you do either. But one has to wonder, how would Odom’s life, the players lives, and the state of the NBA be different if Stern had not so effortlessly rejected that trade on that fateful evening.