What if Chris Paul was traded to the Lakers to team up with Kobe Bryant in 2011?



Do you remember where you were on Dec. 8, 2011?

Far from the typical “on this date,” we look back to something that didn’t happen 10 years ago to this day.

I remember where I was — three months removed from leaving New Orleans for prep school in New Hampshire, this tweet came to my phone:

(Yes, Woj Bombs have been a thing for 10-plus years now. Also, it’s been 10 years?!)

Things moved a bit differently back then, but as details trickled in, Wojnarowski clarified the package, sharing that it would be a three-team deal that sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to the Rockets and the trio of Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin and Luis Scola to the New Orleans Hornets.

It was a strange time. We were literally two weeks removed from Thanksgiving, which was the date that the NBA and NBPA agreed to end an ongoing lockout, meaning the 2011-12 season would begin on Christmas Day. In the midst of a flurry of free agency news, it became evident that Paul no longer wanted to be in New Orleans and we soon learned he was set to be a Laker…

Or so we thought.

Less than two hours after Wojnarowski reported a deal had been reached in principle, he followed up saying that the league’s owners pushed commissioner David Stern to kill the deal.

By 9:15 ET on Dec. 8, 2011. The deal was off. What happened?

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Why did David Stern veto the trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers?

When this story is told, an important detail is often overlooked.

In December of 2010 — less than a year prior to the reported deal — the NBA purchased the Hornets from George Shinn and Gary Chouest. Yes, the franchise was owned and operated by the league itself. When the sale became official, league spokesperson Mike Bass told the New York Times that “franchise-altering decisions will ultimately be reviewed by the league.”

I think the decision to trade one of the greatest point guards of all time could be considered franchise-altering.

A series of tweets from Wojnarowski can take you back to how things progressed towards the deal ultimately falling through.

First, it was a report that the owners were pushing to end the deal:

The owners were “livid that the league-owned Hornets were allowed to make Paul deal,” according to Wojnarowski. Their rationale? Fresh off of a lockout, this wasn’t exactly a good look.

As the dust settled, Wojnarowski reported that then-Commissioner Stern wasn’t going to allow Paul to dictate where he played.

When revisiting how the saga unfolded, it’s often viewed as a conspiracy against the Lakers or merely Stern taking a stance against this type of player movement. The conspiracy theory holds no weight but there is something to be said about player empowerment here.

Ultimately, it all goes back to the league’s ownership of the team, which is the root of things progressing to the point of a trade veto.

But it’s always fun to wonder…

(Getty Images)

What would Chris Paul have looked like with the Lakers?

As we know, Paul ended up in Los Angeles, just across the hall as the “Lob City” era of the LA Clippers franchise began.

In the 2011-12 season, Paul averaged 19.8 points, 9.1 assists and 2.5 steals, earning All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive First Team honors for a Clippers team that finished with a 40-26 record in the lockout-shortened season, good for the West’s fifth seed.

Across the hall, Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant was the other guard named to the All-NBA First Team in 2011-12 with averages of 27.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists. The Lakers earned the West’s third seed with a 41-25 record and advanced to the second round of the playoffs, where they lost to eventual Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder.

With Paul and Bryant, it’s no secret that the Lakers would have the best backcourt in the NBA that season and arguably one of the best backcourts to ever share the floor. Ever.

Would they have been a shoo-in to win the title? Well, that’s another story.

Let’s not forget that the deal that would have landed Paul would have also sent Gasol to Houston. That season, Gasol averaged 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds in 65 games, though his averages took a step back in the second round.

It took the Lakers seven games to get out of the first round against a feisty Nuggets team before bowing out to the upstart Thunder in five. Paul could have stymied Russell Westbrook but would they have an answer for Kevin Durant, who made his emergence as a superstar during the 2012 NBA Playoffs?

If they got past the Thunder, would Bynum be enough to deal with Tim Duncan, the anchor of a Spurs team that owned the league’s best record? Paul would have matched up perfectly with Tony Parker, but that series is when Gasol’s absence truly would have been felt.

At the time, the West was a gauntlet, and no one move would guarantee you a championship, but the acquisition of Paul would have extended Bryant’s prime. No question.

LA doesn’t move to acquire Steve Nash, but it still might be able to bring in Dwight Howard. In one of those seasons, there’s no doubt that a Paul-Bryant backcourt would win an NBA title, which would have been legacy-altering for all parties involved.

This hypothetical could go much further, which is why they’re so fun. But for now, it’s always fun to wonder “what if?”…


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