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Sunday, May 20, 2018

How David Stern’s ‘Basketball Reasons’ Changed the Future of Lakers and Clippers

So the NBA has returned; and, fittingly, controversy has not been too far behind. While the nuances of the new collective bargaining agreement continue to be disseminated to a non-legalese American public hell-bent on recording leagues games without the express written consent of the National Basketball Association, the ease of off-the-court maneuvering once taken for granted has now become harder to understand than a sentence from Metta World Peace. (Exactly.) Time was a superstar could be unloaded in a three-way trade, and there would be something to write about. The rosters of three teams would change and intrigue would build. It seems that, under the auspices of the league’s new CBA, it would probably be easier to complete a three-team deal involving the Corleones, Tattaglias, and the Barzinis, and the resulting massacre wouldn’t be half as bad as Godfather III.

If it’s one thing LA knows about it is high drama, which has nothing to do with how many medical marijuana dispensaries exist in the city and how easy it is to get diagnosed with fantasy football-related delusions of grandeur in order to get a prescription. The most recent piece of Hollywood cum Greek tragedy involved the now-infamous trade of Chris Paul. Of course, if this were turned into a script there might be a problem in central casting trying to fill the role of Goran Dragic.

It had appeared that Paul was on his way to the Lakers in a three-team deal that would have sent Pau Gasol to Houston; Lamar Odom, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic, and a Kmart franchise — or maybe Kevin Martin — to New Orleans. It was a done deal. Websites already posted pictures of CP3 wearing purple and gold.

Then it wasn’t.

David Stern vetoed the trade, which would have elicited more tears had Los Angeles not been home to so many botched eye jobs. Nevertheless, it raised many issues, the biggest one being the apparent conflict of interest that exists in the NBA being the Hornets’ de facto owner and having the ability to approve or decline trades. This gave rise to the coinage of “basketball reasons” as an excuse to deny the deal. One of the most nebulous two-word expressions in the history of mankind has now given me a medium to explain away most of my life’s failures. Basketball reasons.

What followed was something so awkward it might have been plucked straight out of my biography: The players had to return to their teams as if nothing happened. “Welcome back guys. Of course we still want you. We just wanted Chris Paul a little more.” The Lakers then turned around and traded Odom to the Mavericks, proving the axiom ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, trade them the Sixth Man of the Year.’ In exchange, the Lakers got a trade exception and a 2012 second-round pick. As far as Laker fans are considered, they might as well have received a sack of radishes in return. It was almost as if the Lakers were returning an unwanted holiday gift and had to give up Odom in lieu of a restocking fee.

Nevertheless the Lakers persistence paid off for the city, since Paul ended up coming to Los Angeles. However, if the blue-and-red uniform emblazoned with the Clippers script across the front didn’t give it away, then here I am to play the role of spoiler for the ranks of the ambivalent: Paul is a Clipper. Odom is a Maverick. Pau is a Laker. David Stern is a scapegoat for a large group of fans.

To try and appease Laker supporters, many basketball observers have been saying that the veto actually prevented the Lakers from overpaying for the Hornets guard. Any chance at appeasement, however, was undone by the announcement that the team has acquired Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy (which should thrill Los Angeles’ burgeoning Irish population) in addition to Jason Kapono and Gerald Green. They should all make great stocking stuffers for the holidays… Uh, as gifts, though it might be a means of employment as well if this whole castoff revolution doesn’t really work out for the Lakers. In other words, the four signings for the Lakers — versus the Clippers’ coup of obtaining Paul, Chauncey Billups, and Caron Butler — personify the gift of tube socks one has received from that not-all-there relative who presumably had good intentions.

Not a single regular season game has been played yet and people in the LA metro area are looking for a pike (and perhaps a bridge) to place the heads of the Lakers’ brass that at one point could do no wrong outside the occasional Soumaila Samake or Kwame Brown sighting. Now, the Lakers have seen a Hall of Fame coach disappear into the Montana wilderness again, rekindling fears of another 2004-2005 apocalypse when Phil Jackson left the first time, Rudy T came aboard, and the Lakers summoned the powers of Kazaam to make Shaq magically disappear from Los Angeles and wind up on South Beach. The Lakers became a lottery team, and Kobe got very upset (and that was before he found out about Smush Parker).

It seems impossible to fault Mitch Kupchak. Since taking over for the iconic Jerry West, he has orchestrated one of the most productive eras in the team’s history, including pulling off the trade that landed Pau Gasol and two additional titles, a deal which still causes Gregg Popovich to curse a blue streak. Perhaps some of the ire may be directed toward Jim Buss. The son of long time owner, Jerry, gradually has begun to take over operations of the team, beginning when he made the trip to Orlando over three years ago to accept the team’s title after their Finals triumph over the Magic. The younger Buss and Phil Jackson had a personality clash that led to a relationships on par with that of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. Perhaps this is Buss going in reverse and cleaning any remnants of the Jackson-era Lakers and ushering an era of … well, something.

Regardless, the reality is this article would not have been written if not for the efforts of Stern. If the trade goes through, everyone in LA is happy. The Lakers are traveling highlight show, and the Clippers, with Griffin, Gordon and others, are the team with hope. This was something no one on either side expected. Hornets GM Dell Demps signed off on the trade, but now it was reportedly a miscommunication that the trade was announced in the first place and Stern had to publicly paint a giant red ‘X’ over it.

As if the roster discord wasn’t enough, late last week it was announced Kobe Bryant was getting a divorce. Perhaps his wife Vanessa felt enough was enough, filing for the separation soon after the Lakers announced Devin Ebanks as a potential starter this year. What it adds up to is more turmoil for the Lakers’ franchise player.

Growing up a Lakers fan, I had to renounce any illusions of public fandom once I became a professional amateur journalist. There has been a positive to come out of this whole rigmarole. If the Lakers join the ranks of the few, the proud, the lottery-bound, at least the Commish has given fans an excuse as to why: Basketball reasons.

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