When somebody writes the definitive David Stern biography, I’ll pre-order it and devote a weekend to reading it cover-to-cover. It would be the fitting response to a book devoted to a man who was commissioner of the greatest professional association of the greatest sport on this planet for more than a quarter-century. It’s not giving him enough credit to say “he rules with an iron fist” — that’s how Roger Goodell runs the NFL and while that works for him, that league has virtually unlimited leeway with its customers because the NFL is as much an ethos as it is a sport. The reason why Stern has been such an enduring success in his job is that he’s not only more stronger-willed than everyone he takes on, he’s also smarter, more experienced, quicker-witted, and… and here’s what I think almost everyone fails to understand about him… he also loves the NBA as much as anyone on the planet.

From what I’ve been able to glean, Stern hasn’t been particularly forthcoming about how he feels about being put in charge of the New Orleans Hornets while the league seeks the ideal billionaire to purchase the team. Did he relish the outrage he provoked when he vetoed the three-way trade that would have made Chris Paul a Laker? Hard to say, but he has to feel pretty smug now that he’s managed to improve on the Hornets’ return from the original package that would have netted Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Lamar Odom, Goran Dragic and the Knicks’ 2012 first round pick. That wasn’t a horrible deal by any measure, but most of those players are probably at or past their peaks with contracts that are not exactly conducive to selling a struggling franchise.

Today’s deal netted the Hornets a probable future All-Star in shooting guard Eric Gordon — who is still on his rookie contract and will turn 23 years old later this month — along with Chris Kaman’s $12.7 million expiring contract, athletic sophomore Al-Farouq Aminu, and the Timberwolves’ unprotected first-round pick in what promises to be a stacked 2012 draft class. In terms of young talent with upside, salary cap flexibility and maximizing the Hornets’ appeal for a potential buyer, I can’t imagine a trade that could have worked out for them better than this one.

With all of the boneheaded moves that NBA general managers have made during Stern’s 27 years as league commissioner, I have to wonder if he didn’t enjoy the unusual opportunity for him to show them how to really drive a hard bargain. I won’t name names, but I read a lot of NBA columnists and bloggers over the past week complain that Stern killed the best possible deal the Hornets could have negotiated. One particularly prominent NBA opinionist made a point of spinning a narrative that depicted Stern as a doddering old man who wasn’t equipped to deal with this new breed of new-money owners and me-first players.

If I’ve understood anything about David Stern during his regime, it was that he would never stick around beyond the point where he wasn’t still the smartest, most cold-blooded player in this game. Everyone is still reeling from this trade and its ramifications, but when all of you come to your senses, don’t even try to front that Stern didn’t make the best possible deal for the Hornets in the end.

If you can’t bring yourself to give the old man credit, distract yourself with dreams of Paul-to-Griffin alley-oops and move on to your next concocted outrage about how you deserve a discount on your League Pass or whatever. Through all your complaining, you’ll keep watching and opening your wallets unless you have much more willpower and much less passion for the NBA than I do. Improbably, this is shaping up to be an even more compelling season than the last one. And I predict that David Stern will walk away from his job with the league in better shape than it’s ever been in — whether or not you want to give him credit for that is irrelevant.

Comments (44)

  1. BraVO. Great article. Agreed on all fronts.

  2. “One particularly prominent NBA opinionist made a point of spinning a narrative that depicted Stern as a doddering old man who wasn’t equipped to deal with this new breed of new-money owners and me-first players.”

    *cough*BillSimmons*cough*

    At least as I recall he made that point a couple days ago in one of his 246 days of NBA xmas articles.

  3. Agreed. Fantastic article. Only people still complaining about Laker deal are Laker fans. Stern knows what he’s doing. BTW Demps should probably be let go for taking the Laker deal when this was attainable.

  4. I’m generally a defender of Stern in most circles, but I have to admit that this seems an insanely charitable reading of his role in both the lockout and the mess around the vetoed trade. Can you really just discount all the reports (from reporters! not just famous “opinionists”!) about Stern losing the ear of seemingly half the owners, of Dell Demps’ contemplating stepping down for his public humiliation, or of Morey being completely distraught? Stern allowed an ambiguous situation (that Phil Jackson predicted) explode in his face, and, yes, he did a pretty damn good job fixing it. But can we call the griping of the last few days illegitimate just because Sterling is an idiot who caved?

    And as far the spun narrative of Stern being out of touch with his young players…that might be taking it too far, but the man has a point about Stern’s pettiness in attempting to control how the league’s young stars dress, how they talk, and where they do his job.

    He’s great, and I, too, will read any biography on the man, but I expected a little hagiography out of the very even-handed Scott Carefoot.

  5. Stern is smart. He recognized his unfair advantage of being both commissioner and owner and used it to extract an impossible deal no regular owner could in a situation with no leverage. By vetoing as commissioner the original NOLA-LAL-HOU deal, he was able to carry that threat as a stick in future negotiations to extract premium value. Bravo. You can really do amazing things if you care not for conflicts of interest, integrity or the credibility of the league.

    • And boy does Stern lack integrity and any sense of ethical behavior. Everyone knows the games are rigged by the league. With Stern looking the other way when Miami colluded with James & Bosh, and now the teams are rigged with Stern deciding who gets traded where.

      The NBA has no credibility and never will as long as David Stern has anything to do with it. His legacy is one of corruption, lies, and deceit. Shame on all of you who worship him.

  6. Yep this is a much better deal. I’m not sure Houston cares about that though.

    Lie you mentioned, once the fans see a couple CP to Blake throwdowns I imagine the majority of them will forgot all about the controversy.

  7. The problem with this deal for the Hornets is that Gordon can leave after the season is over, and I can’t see him wanting to stay. I’m not sure that a future owner is going to want to take over a team that has zero stars, no matter how good the pick ends up being.

  8. This article is going to get a lot of comments. Let me be one of the early ones to say, yes, he did a good job of getting more than they did in the original deal, but why is Stern getting all the credit? Surely, Demps, the GM of the team, after all, deserves his fair share as well? Stern is just the quote-unquote owner. And maybe he pushed so hard for this deal precisely because his veto of the LAL-HOU deal was so widely panned. A good(ish) move after a terrible one doesn’t net a positive, IMO.

  9. I guess this a lot easier to say in hindsight,

  10. This is the first step towards contraction of the Hornets. David West already left. Kaman will get injured, or leave (probably both). Gordon is way over rated, and will leave next year anyway. That draft pick will probably be a top 6 pick, and the Hornet’s will probably get their own top six pick (because they are now horrible). So you’re left in the same situation as the Cavs, except without an owner or a home. Nobody is gona buy this team.

  11. Great article, well put, but at the same time, Demps deserves some credit. After all, he is the GM of the team.
    The Clippers are going to be very exciting. Too many PG though (Paul/Billups/Williams/Bledsoe). Does Williams get amnestied?
    And @Mark…calling Gordon overrated is foolish.

  12. “You can really do amazing things if you care not for conflicts of interest, integrity or the credibility of the league.”

    And that’s really the salient point, isn’t it? The fact of this matter is that no other person in the league is capable of making this trade, because – quite literally – no other person in this league is *capable* of making this trade.

  13. What Will said.

    In the process of being So Awesome while negotiating from a position of leverage that no GM in the history of the league has enjoyed, Stern also may have destroyed the Lakers and Rockets’ seasons. That’s not savvy, that’s CYA.

  14. This was a terrible deal for New Orleans compared to the 1st offer… Gordon’s the best player in the deal!!!!! ERIC GORDON!!! This guy is a “looter in a riot” puts up good numbers on a terrible team!! He’s no leader, no one even heard of him before last season and that’s just because of Blake Griffin.
    If you want a cheap no talent team, then the right deal was made, If you actually wanted a good team with good players, the 1st deal was by far better.

  15. I still don’t think this is that good a trade for the Hornets as the Laker one was. Like everyone said, Gordon will probably leave.

    I kinda see this, though: the Clippers will be entertaining as hell. CP3 to Blake and Jordan? Some of those games will look like NBA Jam. They’ll be another big-ratings team for the league. After a nationally televised game where the Clippers maim the rim like Dream Team 2, Stern will smirk ever so slightly to himself.

  16. ERIC GORDON, as you^^^^ put it, is 23 yrs old, and if it wasn’t for an injury, he would have been an All-Star.
    Just because you haven’t heard of him, doesn’t mean nobody hasn’t heard of him.
    One of 27 players named to 2010-12 USA Men’s National Team Program, no slouch chris.

  17. @Justin Yes Gordon can leave, and kaman might be gone too but with 2 lottery picks, whether or not Stern thought about this, the Hornets HAVE OUTS (given their draft position and picks turn out to be great players) incase their potential all-star eric gordon leaves.
    OR
    with their 2 picks, maybe they can use those to convince eric gordon to stay, draft a big guy to replace kaman and another pg perhaps? or trade one of those picks? the flexibility is there!

  18. Agreed, Don. That is the salient point. Many seem to have seen the arguably better deal and imagined Paul-to-Griffin alley-oops and quickly forgot just how shady all this was and how damaging to the league’s credibility.

    Deals are routinely vetoed by owners, but those deals are never submitted for approval to the league. The original one was, and Stern with the power of the commissioner vetoed under the auspices of being the owner. This was a gross abuse of power and totally distorted the entire trade process from that point forward. And might have fundamentally altered the near and long term future of at least four teams (NOLA, LAC, LAL, HOU) and possibly the whole NBA. But hey the Hornets got good value!

    The whole thing stinks.

  19. Fuck you Scott. Your the worst.

  20. This is by far the best yeild for a superstar trade in modern NBA history.

    I agree that it couldn’t have happened without Stern’s conflict of interest(ish) such as taking complete control of the trade negotiations.

    Otherwise this trade would be Kaman+lottery pick+prospect (maybe) – and even that would be good compared to the rapings of the last 10 years like Pau Gasol, Carmelo Anthony or better yet Vince Carter…

    Amazing Article.

  21. Gordon cannot leave after this season. He’s only going to be a RFA and the Hornets will match whatever offer sheet he gets. Most likely, knowing that the Hornets will match, he won’t even get an offer sheet. It’s not going to matter either way because if the team is willing, all young stars sign their second contracts with their bird-right teams because they haven’t made the really big money to take lesser offers elsewhere. New Orleans isn’t exactly an undesirable place to live either and it’s also closer to where he grew up than LA. He’s going to be a Hornet for at least five more seasons. playing next to two lottery picks from this year.

    I never knew what Demps was thinking in the first place. I think he was looking out more from himself, not wanting to saddle himself with a terrible record before new ownership comes in. If that wasn’t the agenda, he needs to get his head check if he thinks trading his 26 year old superstar for three older players and a young backup point is the wisest long-term move for his franchise.

  22. I’m not sure how much being the commissioner helped Stern out. Olshey doesn’t have to surrender as much as he did whether Stern is the commish or not. His commissioner powers gave him no leverage. So he can veto a deal, so can Olshey before it gets to that.

    What I think helped Stern the most was the Clippers’ having attractive pieces to offer AND Blake Griffin that made them attractive to Paul. If Paul was adamant on only picking up his option for Orlando for instance, there is not much Stern could have done. I’m pretty sure he would have done it better than Demps though. Demps probably would have been thrilled to pick up win-now veterans like Turkoglu and Nelson to lead the Hornets into an exciting future of mediocrity or more likely worse.

  23. Great article….unless you’re a Lakers or Rockets fan n you just got screwed out of a deal it tooks weeks to put together, then get approved,…..then get voided cuz Cuban n Gilbert got in Stern’s ear. Thank goodness for sane people everywhere else who recognize the absolute conflict of interest cuz this article is trash. What Stern did, was tarnish his legacy, not show his wisdom…
    Better luck next time.

  24. And why are bubbleheads shittin on Demps like he’s at fault for anything?
    Reality check, people! Scola, Odom, Martin, Dragic along with Ariza, Okafor and Jack make this team competitive in the now. Why would Demp care about who the owner is 5 years from now? He’s tryin to keep the team competitive right now. Kinda tough to keep your job when your team is lottery bound for the next 5 years.

  25. “Fuck you Scott. Your the worst.”

    Aaand we have a winner!

  26. I’m too lazy to verify this, and I’m supposed to be grading papers right now anyway, but I believe that Gordon is a restricted free agent at the end of this year and can’t necessarily leave the Hornets at the end of this season. And why would he want to!? (assuming we can re-sign Jason Smith, of course)

  27. I am admittedly a lifelong Lakers fan, but I find it mind-boggling that any fan of the NBA can see the entire Paul trade saga as anything other than as a total crisis of credibility for the league.

    But that aside, we can evaluate the merits of both trades — the original deal and the one the Hornets ultimately received — and still not arrive at the commonly held belief that the Clippers offer was demonstrably better. It’s just a matter of opinion on what you think is the best way to build a contender.

    In the first deal, the Hornets received, yes, aging veterans, but ones that would have kept them a relatively competitive basketball team in the short term, but also provided valuable assets for future trades. Odom’s talent and contract make him one of the more attractive trade chips in the league. Martin, too, on a two-year deal, becomes a major commodity next year (while giving the team much needed scoring this year. People complain about Scola’s contract but he is vastly underrated and the type of player team’s frantically search for every year to fill the power forward position. Though better, it’s not dissimilar to the widely panned Gasol trade that in hindsight provided Memphis the ability to put together a very good basketball team in a relatively short period of time.

    The Clippers trade certainly provides the Hornets with more obvious flexibility and more “hope,” but there is very little evidence that gutting a team and building through youth and draft picks is the surest way to NBA relevance. Very few championship teams have been built this way, very few title contenders even. It typically requires being lucky (e.g. landing a franchise player like Durant in the draft which happens very rarely), patient and shrewd (the latter qualities in short supply among NBA front offices), and even then takes years. Obviously getting Gordon appears to be a nice pick-up, but to keep him the Hornets will have to sign him to a massive, probably max deal, which good though he is, he is absolutely not worth. Overpaying guys like Gordon is typically what puts teams in rough positions in the future.

  28. You’re right that few title contenders have been built that way, but the Venn diagram of title-contending small-market teams and title contending teams built through lucky drafting and smart accumulation of young talent would overlap perfectly. I’m happy with the trade because having exciting young talent, draft prospects and future financial flexibility are more likely to appeal to an owner, and that – more so than present competitiveness – is what the Hornets need this year.

  29. I’m sorry I disagree with your article. Very well written though. But Stern can make that kind of decision because he’s the commissioner and has the power to do whatever he wants. He gets what he wants, but what he did was pollute the integrity of the league. How can the COMMISIIONER of the league make decisions for 1 team? it isnt fair for the other owners and managers out there with the power he has. Holding out on a deal to get the best possible deal? he has no vested interest in the hornets. All he cares about is selling the team.

    So i say stern is a bully.

  30. What! No discount on league pass? I”m outraged!

  31. I don’t see the 2012 draft as a stacked draft.

    I don’t see Eric Gordon as anything at all better than Scola, Odom, Martin, and Dragic.

    I see SOMD tandem taking the Hornets to the playoffs for the next several years.

    I see Gordon Kaman and Aminu taking Hornets to a record with less than 10 wins for the entire season. I see the Hornets getting an okay draft pick. I see that draft pick playing decent. I see the Hornets still struggling 4 years down the road. I see possible contraction for them.

    I am really surprised you see it this way. But, I respect your opinion.

  32. This article is too charitable to Stern. Not only has he allowed two work stoppages under his tenure, he has also destroyed the Seattle basketball community. The Chris Paul fiasco will be the albatross of legacy. Stern needs to resign and do so immediately.

  33. Jason – ‘I’m not sure how much being the commissioner helped Stern out.’ if the rumblings are true, any talks b/w the clips & hornets were dead, until mysteriously the lakers were ‘rumoured’ to be in talks with the hornets again (which is odd, considering that they really don’t have much to trade with – i don’t see how the hornets would go for a deal centred around either pau or bynum). now, who would both stand to gain from this rumour, and have the clout to get LA involved (even when, if looked at objectively, LA didn’t have the pieces to make any kind of offer)? could it be stern? so, it may be a bit conspiracy-theory-ish, but is it not possible that stern – as commissioner – *suggested* to the lakers that they should jump back in, simply as a way to cattle-prod the clippers back into talks? and if that’s at all possible (and considering that stern is ‘the smartest guy in the room,’ how could it not be possible), then isn’t that an abuse of power?

  34. uuuhhhh its pretty safe to say the deal only went down because everyone on the planet reactive negatively and lawsuits were about to start flying. stern is contracting the team. plain and simple. he’s just trying to make it look like they give a shit. the mere idea of him having any say so over the hornet’s front office decisions presents a blatant conflict of interest and a serious conundrum as to the role of dell demps.

    you can’t honestly say that david stern has done that great of a job. first of all, we have no idea what it would have been like under another commish. for better for worse, we just don’t know. secondly, he’s mocked and hated more than any other american sports commissioner. that could be a statement on the fans, but i think it speaks volumes of his ability to be the middle man between the two sides that make up this league. ontop of all of this, his rise came on the wave of some of the best players to play the game, in a generation that saw endorsements, advertising and shoe technology take giant leaps.

  35. I would like to think of the whole thing this way. Stern should be praised because this trade makes the NBA a much better overall product than the original three way trade. Conflict of interest and tarnished legacy or not, Stern did his job admirably; he can’t make everyone happy but this LAC trade is great for the NBA. Instead of lakers being awesome and relevant like all the time, he has now skyrocketed the importance of the Clippers (annual shit face franchise for last 20 years) and gave NOH incredible flexibility relative to the previous 3 way deal. I think this is why Scott is so impressed by Stern, this deal is great for the fans, especially the most important fans; the casual fans.

  36. Stern should be thanking (insert deity here) that Donald Sterling is such a major league sucker. There couldn’t have been enough bidders to justify subbing Gordon for Bledsoe in this deal. It was just a matter of time before David Stern made Donald Sterling his Andy Dufresne.

  37. Eric Gordon is one of the most underrated players in the league. To call him “overrated” makes me think that someone doesn’t keep track of players beyond their own home team. He gets better every year, and averaged over 22 ppg last year despite injury due to a hard foul. He was averaging over 24 points before that. It would’ve been more had He’s also a great defensive player, and was the “go to” guy whenever someone needed to guard Kobe. It’s because he was on the Clippers that he’s been flying under the radar for so long. Maybe in NOLA he’ll get the credit he deserves.

    If you want to build a solid team now then the Laker deal was really good, but I doubt the longevity of the team. You saw how temperamental Odom proved to be. (Hint: He’s always been that way, even when he was a Clipper.) That doesn’t spell well for a franchise that’s trying to get a new owner. They need to make it attractive by getting young players with lots of upside. I like Scola and KMart a lot. However, it’s even questionable if NOLA would even be a playoff team if the Lakers trade went through. Sure those guys an Odom have been on playoff teams, but do they have what it takes to lead a team there?

    Gordon and the Minnesota pick sealed the deal here. This coming draft class is LOADED and it would not be surprising if the next superstar came from it. (Drummond? Davis? Barnes, maybe?) Even though Minny is going to be much more competitive with one of my favorite coaches taking the reigns, the pick should still be pretty high. And Gordon will get better. He showed last year how much of a slasher and inside threat he can be, when most people saw him as just a 3 point shooter. I could see him being a top 10 shooting guard, barring any injury. (And yes, he is injury prone, unfortunately.)

  38. Preacher telling the truth and it hurts!

  39. I don’t even know where to begin with this troll “article”. I don’t really care one way or another about CP (I appreciate his talent), but I do know that any form of corruption at the top always signals the decline of an era. Abuses of power aside, I also know, unless it changes, I won’t be renewing my 32 year love affair with the sport (season pass! I’m not a moth Scott-hole, and the NBA is not a flame, it’s a game). No more honor among honorable men, thank you very much Mr. Stern. BTW, Stern did not lead this league up to it’s precipitous heights at it’s present cliff edge, he simply went along for the ride. You can thank the likes of Dr. J., Magic, Michael, and Kobe for where we are today.

  40. Although Stern (not Demps) was able to get a better deal out of the Clips, the Hornets won’t be a playoff team any time soon. They will wither away and will be a great candidate for contraction. Gordon will leave and so much for the class of 2012. The original Lakers/Rockets trade would put them in the playoffs. Wouldn’t a new owner want a playoff contending team right off the bat? What is the plan for the sale of the Hornets? That’s the question we need to ask here….

    I do feel sorry for the Hornet’s fans. They are going to suck for a while and may not even have a team in the future.

  41. I just find it incredible that some people are still able to defend the initial NO-LA-Houston trade. In that deal, the team with shaky finances and no owner was getting the 3rd best player AND adding salary! When’s the last time that occurred in a trade of a superstar?

  42. i totally disagree with this article, i understand the trade was a great deal for the hornets but, the reason everyone demanded stern’s head was the perceived idea that the hornets-laker deal didnt happen because the hornets (and possibly stern as well) didnt want big market lakers get another superstar player so quickly right after the new cba was created for that sole purpose. making a level playing field for both big market city such as la and small market city such Minnesota. the ideal was a great deal but it doesnt repair stern’s image or legacy and the nba’s owners as well.

  43. The deal with the Clippers is MUCH better for the Hornets.

    Adding Scola, Martin, Odom and Dragic would have created a ceiling for the Hornets as 5-8 seed in the West with an aging roster, little to no young assets and limited cap flexibility. People need to realize that they were essentially adding the core of a Houston Rockets team that could not make the playoffs themselves in recent years and a moody player in Odom who was already reported to have been unhappy with the trade. Best case scenario is that they win a playoff series or two over the next three seasons and then are forced to start the rebuild process then.

    The trade with the Clips gives them a potential all star in Gordon, another young asset in Aminu, a presumably high pick in a draft that is expected to be the best in almost a decade, and a stopgap centre with an expiring contract in Kaman that will give the Hornets either a) cap flexibility next summer or b) a potential trade piece as the deadline approaches this year.

    And let’s just be honest here and acknowledge that the Hornets best plan is to lose as many games as possible this season and hopefully land one of the potential franchise guys in the 2012 draft with their own pick. Yes, I know “tanking” is publicly treated as a major faux pas but it happens on the regular and the deal with the Clippers gives them a much better chance to do this.

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