Even before trades could officially be completed, the NBA has a controversy brewing unlike any we've seen in years. The league-owned New Orleans Hornets had a three-team deal in place which would have sent superstar Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers, Pau Gasol to the Houston Rockets, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Lamar Odom and a protected first round pick in the 2012 draft to the Hornets. They had the deal in place until David Stern - acting either as the custodian of the Hornets, the commissioner of the league, or both - decided to veto the trade.
As you can imagine, the players are outraged. The owners have more leverage in this situation because they own the Hornets. Their case is further bolstered by the fact that the trade doesn't exactly set the Hornets up in the short or long term. In fact, if the trade goes through, New Orleans will be taking on about $45M in salary for a trio of players on the wrong side of their prime, and a middling first round pick. Stern and the owners can make the case they vetoed this trade because their GM is trying to make a deal that will handcuff the franchise (and possibly drag down the value of the franchise as they search for an owner). But the issue here really has less to do with the CBA than it does with the psychology of the rift between the owners and the players.
The owners will tell you they want small markets to be able to compete, and they very well may, but the real issue here is the owners don't want players holding teams for ransom. On the other side, the players absolutely want to dictate terms, just like Carmelo Anthony did last season in Denver. It's a power struggle that apparently wasn't cleared up by the new CBA, and the first test of the owners' fortitude is coming from probably the worst player possible, the superstar playing for the team owned by the league.
These power struggles would lessen if owners were willing to use the system in place for strengthening their hand in negotiations with their own free agents. It's highly unlikely Chris Paul would sign an extension in New Orleans. Everyone knows that. The Hornets are faced with a "trade him or lose him" decision, but the CBA was designed to put the tough decision on the player. If the Hornets hold on to Paul, and he becomes an unrestricted free agent, he will have to take about $40M less to sign with another team. That's the advantage. Obviously, Paul wants to be traded before he hits free agency so he can sign long term with another team without giving up that extra $40M. To top it off, Paul wants to be able to choose his destination team now, and get that extra money. It's within his rights to request this. He can even make a big stink about where he will sign an extension and where he won't, but no matter how much noise he makes, he can't make the Hornets trade him.
The incentives for loyalty and disincentives for jumping ship only matter if teams have the gumption to make guys like Anthony and Paul make the decision. If you want to play for the Lakers, it's going to cost you $40M over the life of your next contract. What do you hate more, playing in New Orleans, or giving up $40M? Teams are loathe to put the decision in the hands of their players, in fact in the past they've even arranged sign-and-trade deals after their free agents have found a new to team which allow the players to get more money in their new cities. If teams want to take the power away from the players, they have to utilize the tools which give them the advantage in free agency. When GMs like Demps accept bad deals because it's "the best they can do," it completely defeats the protections provided by the CBA. You'd hope that any owner would veto a deal like this, the problem here is the Hornets don't have just any owner, they have 29 owners and the mouthpiece for that group just led the charge through a five-month lockout to make sure this situation didn't happen again.There's no telling what the players will do with their anger over this veto. Hopefully, we won't hear the word strike any time soon.
I'm much more a Sixers fan than an NBA fan in general, so my reaction is always viewed through the lens of "how does this affect the Sixers?" In this case, I think it's a good thing. If the playing field is leveled, maybe the Sixers have a shot to land Dwight Howard. If Chris Paul isn't given to the Lakers, maybe they aren't a dominant force in the league beyond Kobe's career. Both positive signs for the Sixers going forward.
No matter what happens, free agency opens today at 2pm, training camp begins and we're only a week away from the first preseason game. Let's just hope this power struggle doesn't distract too much from that.