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NBA executive explains why David Stern killed Chris Paul to Lakers’ trade

Los Angeles Clippers v Los Angeles Lakers

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 31: Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers sets up to guard Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers as they wait for an inbounds pass at Staples Center on October 31, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The Clippers won 118-111. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

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Laker fans are still angry about it a decade later, and it remains the most talked about trade that never happened in NBA history.

In December 2011, after an NBA lockout mercifully ended and teams were gearing up for a Christmas start to the season, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and Hornets GM Dell Demps put together a three-team trade that would have sent Chris Paul to join Kobe Bryant on the Lakers. Some quality players — Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and Lamar Odom — were on their way to the then New Orleans Hornets in the deal.

NBA Commissioner David Stern killed the trade. Not in his role as Commissioner, but as the acting owner of the Hornets (George Shinn, one of the worst owners the NBA has ever seen, had wanted out, and the league ended up buying the team from him and looking for a new owner).

Why did he kill the deal?

Not because it would have made the Lakers too good, but because it would have made the Hornets too good, former NBA executive Stu Jackson told Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times.

"[Stern] “ran things by me, as an ex-general manager at the time. I explained to David the following … I felt that the package of Odom, Martin, Scola, Dragic was going to vault the New Orleans Hornets to a position where they’d make the playoffs but they were going to be a playoff team that was not capable of winning a championship.

“In other words, I thought so much of Monty Williams, I thought he would coach them up and get in the playoffs, not have home-court advantage and fans would be happy, obviously, but they would be caught in mediocrity and a mediocre team is not necessarily attractive to a potential owner. They want lesser payroll, they want to put their stamp on the team and build it and by making this trade, to me it made the franchise unattractive, or less attractive, to a potential owner. And to my surprise after another day David kind of got his head wrapped around it and he agreed. He made the decision to veto the trade and not approve.”

That’s one spin, but the story is never that simple.

Sources have told NBC Sports over the years that when news of the proposed trade leaked, multiple angry owners called up Stern demanding that he kill it. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert sent Stern an email saying the same thing. The core of their complaint was, “We just spent a lockout trying to level the playing field for small markets and this instantly spits in the face of that and forms a superteam in a major market.”

Stern likely had multiple motivations, but he was within his power to kill the trade.

Chris Paul was eventually traded to Los Angeles but to the Clippers to form the “Lob City” team that was one of the best in the NBA for years (but didn’t have a lot of playoff luck). CP3 and that team also had to deal with the Donald Sterling fiasco. Paul is now in Phoenix, leading that team to the Finals last season and keeping them a contender this season.

The league eventually sold the New Orleans franchise to Tom Benson, the owner of the NFL’s Saints, who kept the team in New Orleans. He also changed the team name to Pelicans, releasing the Hornets name to go back to Charlotte, where it is a fit.

The Lakers held on to Kobe but were not the same team and quietly started rebuilding in the final years of Kobe’s career. They missed the playoffs for a franchise-record six years, but the roster that was built was good enough to attract LeBron James, then many of those players from the rebuild were traded for Anthony Davis. The Lakers won the 2020 title in the bubble.