"The NBA vetoed the trade!"
The buzzing sound of my phone indicated that I'd received a message. Assuming it was just another comment on the Laker's promising future with superstar Chris Paul in the fold, I let it sit for a minute. But then, hearing a second buzz, I curiously took a look. Then shock took over, followed closely by disbelief.
How could the NBA veto a trade? What does that even mean?
There was a certain irony to the end of the NBA's ridiculous lockout; a work stoppage intended to curtail superstar's power ended with star trade rumors on everyone's minds. Even yesterday afternoon, when the Chris Paul trade was announced, it was still a snickering point for many of us: the NBA's small market owners went to war for control but their victory was pretty short-lived. But, jokes aside, no one thought the league office would ever risk vetoing a trade.
How was that even possible?
Sure, the league owns Paul's team, the New Orleans Hornets. Technically, the league office could veto the trade because they own that snake-bitten franchise. But the idea that the commissioner's office, which represents the interests of all teams, would actually interfere in a daily business transaction between several member franchises was just not something most basketball-watchers considered. It was simply too far out there, too far-fetched, to be believable. Certainly, the NBA's power brokers might privately pressure Hornet's management to send Paul to one team over another but a public veto? That development was shocking and the league will feel its consequences for years.
How can the league's moneymakers feel protected now? Where do the NBA's power brokers think the money comes from?
The fallout from Stern's poor decision is not short-term; it's a serious catastrophe for the league as a united business entity. The NBA is not the NFL; for all its discussion of parity the evident reality has always been that 5-6 markets drive growth and the other 25 teams subsist off their revenues. It was the Celtics and Lakers in the 1980s, the Bulls in the 1990s, the Celtics and Lakers in the 2000s, and now those two plus the Mavericks, Heat, Bulls, and Knicks. The small teams need some protection because they will fold without it but the idea of hurting the moneymakers is just bad business. Vetoing a trade that would ensure the Lakers field a compelling, highly profitable team for the next decade is a terrible, unprecedented business decision.
Will there be labor peace now?
In fact, it's bad business for two reasons: in one stroke the league cut off its biggest moneymaker at the knees and threw bad blood back into its relationship with its star players. From Day 1, every realist knew the central goal of the lockout was ridiculous: fundamentally, if a desirable player wants to go to a certain type of market, they should be able to go there. The league can change the rules, create consequences for market switches, and incentivize loyalty but, ultimately, it can't force a player to stay somewhere after their contract is up. Or can it? The league opened up that very problematic can of worms yesterday because, with this trade vetoed, how can the NBA allow a trade to another franchise without causing a schism between big and small owners and opening itself up to several potent lawsuits?
It can't. As Julius Caesar used to say, "the die is cast." But, if David Stern has any sense, he will pick that die right back up, put it back in his pocket, and rescind this veto. If he doesn't, there will be hell to pay down the road.
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