In the wake of the ridiculous blocking of the trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, I'm going to try to assess who actually came out ahead on this, and who has gotten hurt the most.
6. Anyone who hates the Lakers more than they love any individual team
If all you're rooting for in the NBA is for the Lakers to lose (and presumably any other heavyweight to lose as well), you came out ahead. I can't imagine how anyone actually follows a sport like that, but I know it happens. But even legitimate fans of rival teams of the Lakers (Celtics, Spurs, Mavericks) that I know agree that this decision was ridiculous.
5. The Los Angeles Clippers
This may end up being #1 if Chris Paul ends up staying there, but they moved to the front of the line for who's going to land him. And in doing so, if they get him, at least will have a slight edge in resigning him to a long-term deal.
4. Any big market/legendary team who wants Chris Paul next year
Wherever he ends up playing this year, whether it's New Orleans, Los Angeles (with the Clippers), or whatever small market ends up deciding to give the Hornets something for him, Paul is still going to have the option to become a free agent next season. Nobody can force him to do otherwise. Now, it's possible he falls in love with whatever team David Stern decides he can play for this year and signs a long-term extension, but most likely, he'll be a free agent next summer. Then the Lakers, Knicks, Celtics, or whoever can just put their efforts into wooing him - and potentially get him without having to give up anything. Whatever team has him this year most likely is getting a one year rental.
3. The Dallas Mavericks
They landed Lamar Odom for nothing as a result of this. I'd say that's a win for them.
2. Dan Gilbert's Ego
He defeated the mighty Lakers! He scored one for the little guy! His LeBron-scorned broken heart can taste the sweet nectar of revenge against a supposed villain who is pillaging the small markets! Never mind the fact that his whining actually royally screwed over the Hornets in this process and didn't actually help any small market teams in the long term. He won!
1. Pau Gasol
Well, he doesn't have to go to Houston now. No offense to the Rockets organization or the city of Houston, but I don't think Gasol would thrive there like he has in L.A. It'd be another Memphis situation for him, where he'd have to carry bad to mediocre teams and then get ripped apart by everyone in the media when he can't get out of the first round. He absolutely excels as the second best player on a team who can carry that team on any given night but isn't expected to day in and day out. As long as he keeps his cool and his head on straight (which he has done so far - basically the opposite of Lamar Odom), and the Lakers aren't stupendously dumb enough to trade both him and Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard, it's looking like he'll get to stay in the purple and gold.
12. Potential buyers of the Hornets
This is basically the NBA's message to potential buyers. "Quick! Buy the Hornets this year while you can still watch Chris Paul! I mean, he's leaving next summer, but, he's there now!" If I've got several hundred million just laying around, I'm not biting on that pitch. (Actually, if I had several hundred million dollars just taking up space, I would be any NBA team I could - but I'm a fan, not a business man. And therefore unlikely to ever be in that scenario.)
11. Any small market team who wants Chris Paul this year
Well, you can have him. But you have to give something up for him. And it presumably has to be better than Odom, Martin, and Scola. And then he's leaving after the year's done. So, it seems unlikely any team will be willing to do that.
10. The NBA Owners as a whole
They looked ridiculous with this. Petty, even. How obvious is it that they so desperately want the NBA to operate like the NFL? And are willing to whine and bitch about it non-stop until it happens. Well, it's never going to happen. That's an entirely separate column for why, but it won't.
9. Dan Gilbert as a Legitimate, Professional Businessman/Owner
Okay, the LeBron Hate Letter was at least somewhat forgiveable as a heat-of-the-moment, passionate, anger moment. The "Paul to the Lakers is Sooooo Unfair!" Letter was not. This scenario had absolutely nothing to do with him or the Cavaliers. The fact that the Hornets are owned by the league should have been irrelevant. This was just a spoiled kid whining to his parents that another rich kid got a better car or always wins at tennis.
8. Lamar Odom's Manhood
Lamar, really? I know you took less money to stay in L.A., and I know you've been there for seven years. And really, the Lakers fans truly appreciate everything you've done over the years and all your contributions. But this is really not the way you want to leave - crying because the team doesn't "want" you. Of course they want you. They just want Chris Paul more. (Every single team does.) You're not dating the Lakers. You work for them. It's a business relationship. Have you never seen The Godfather? This is why Sonny got riddled with bullets. He made it personal, against all better advice. (Plus you've been traded before. To the Lakers, from the Heat. And you voluntarily left the Clippers after your first four seasons. It's not like this is your first time around the "basketball is a business" block.)
7. Any big market/legendary team that wants Chris Paul this year
There's a very small number of teams in this category. The Lakers, Celtics, and Knicks are the only ones I can think of for sure. The 76ers, Pistons, and Bulls might possibly qualify under the "legendary" teams, while the Heat and Nets might count as big markets. But I have to guess the "small markets" while only cause a huge fuss if Paul ends up going to the Lakers, Celtics, or Knicks. (Or Heat, but I don't think that can realistically even happen under any circumstances.)
6. The Los Angeles Lakers
I would have put the Lakers in the Winners group by not getting Paul if Odom wasn't such a delicate, sensitive little flower. (See the aforementioned #8 for more details on that.) Ultimately, I decided giving up Gasol and Odom would've been too much, even for the best point guard in basketball right now. But even that would've been preferable to giving up Odom for absolutely nothing. (The trade exception is probably worthless, and the Lakers aren't likely to get much out of a draft pick from the reigning champs.)
5. Chris Paul (potentially)
This might actually have no impact on Paul whatsoever. I have no idea how badly he wants to play for the Lakers. It's entirely possibly this will work out great for him in that he can pick his team next year for whatever price he wants. But it's also entirely possible he re-injures his knee this season and can't find a team willing to give him a long term deal for a max contract. I would guess he might be suing the league in that scenario...
4. The Houston Rockets
I don't know much about a lot of the different general managers in the NBA, but one I am fairly familiar with is Daryl Morey of the Rockets. The man is basically trying to run "Moneyball II: The NBA" with this franchise. His whole philosophy is basically stocking up on assets and swinging for the fences when a great deal comes along. So, I have to imagine he put a lot of time and effort into a deal to get Pau Gasol, just for the league and the other owners basically reverse it as a "screw you" to the Lakers. Personally, I don't think Gasol would've been a great fit there as the Rockets are currently constructed, but it's very likely he had other moves on the horizon to make that would've surrounded Pau with the right pieces to win. I wouldn't rule it out. Either way, I'd be pissed if I was him or a Rockets fan.
3. David Stern
He caved to Dan Gilbert. I can no longer respect the man. I don't see how anyone can.
2. The New Orleans Hornets
If any team got screwed the most in all of this, it was the Hornets. In the original proposal, they would've gotten three starters (Odom, Kevin Martin, and Luis Scola) who are all pretty damn good as well as Goran Dragic, who, at worst, is a really good backup point guard and great spark/energy/bench guy. Plus a draft pick. Now it sounds like they'll get Eric Gordon and a draft pick from the Clippers instead. Um, that's better, how? Instead of a 7'0 small forward, a shooting guard who can create his own shot and score from anywhere, and a power forward who can rebound with the best of them (and a decent backup point guard) they get a 2-guard with a beautiful shot, yet who I'm not entirely convinced is the better of the two shooting guards? That's supposed to be a better deal for the Hornets? And even if that deal doesn't happen, the Hornets aren't going to get as good as they would've from the Lakers and Rockets. And they might get nothing. Even if all you're trying to do is make that team attractive enough to sell, you let that deal go through, because if I'm buying that team, I want the Odom/Martin/Scola package over Gordon.
1. The NBA
Beyond making the league look like a farce? Yes, this has bigger ramifications than that. Look, as much as the "super team" concept sucks for fans of the Indiana Pacers and Utah Jazz, overall, it's good for the league. It creates interest, which creates more revenue for everyone involved. Which is really what most of the owners wanted in the lockout anyway. And it's not like it's impossible for small market teams to build winners. Oklahoma City has one. San Antonio is getting old, but they had one for a decade. The Pacers made the playoffs 15 of 16 years in the 90's and 00's, making the conference finals four times and the finals once. The Jazz made the playoffs 20 straight years from 1984-2003, making the conference finals five times and the finals twice. It can be done. You have to work at it, and you can't make as many mistakes because it's not a "destination" for free agents. But I would think that would be more satisfying anyway - and it's awesome for the average fan to watch when it all comes together. Everyone is stoked about the possibility of a Thunder run to the Finals, and would marvel if it all comes together. In the NFL? Where anyone can win in any given season? Nobody cares.
Plus having a good Lakers team is good for the NBA. (You can argue whether this trade was actually good for the Lakers or not, but you can't argue with that statement.) Having good Knicks and Celtics teams are good for the league. Look, here were the last five finals matchups:
2007 - Spurs over Cavaliers
2008 - Celtics over Lakers
2009 - Lakers over Magic
2010 - Lakers over Celtics
2011 - Mavericks over Heat
How would you rank those Finals? In terms of entertainment and general buzz they generated for the league? Well, depending on who you root for, I would imagine 2008, 2010, and 2011 would rank 1-3 in some fashion. 2009 would be 4th. and 2007 would be a distant 5th.
It's not enough to just have superstars. 2007 had that with LeBron and James. But you need more. You need heroes and villains, you need legends, you need big markets or underdogs. The NBA needs storylines like that in order to thrive, and like it or not, the Lakers always provide opportunities for those storylines to happen. (And no, I'm not suggesting that the league should rig, or has rigged, itself in the past to favor teams like that. But when it happens naturally on it's own, you can't stand in its way.)