My brain is mush, i.e. The Chris Paul Saga

At 5:57 PM EST, Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that the New Orleans Hornets were near a deal to send Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers for Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum. Los Angeles is one of Paul’s preferred destinations, specifically the Lakers.

My mind began racing immediately. From a basketball perspective, a Chris Paul-Kobe Bryant backcourt could compete for the title of the best backcourt ever. Chris Paul is the mid-2000s Shaq of point guards, and Kobe is 2011 Kobe. With two top-7 players in the NBA, the Lakers would’ve been a fantastic team, and so fun to watch — and with Pau Gasol in the post, they still have the option of running the triangle some of the time. I know CP3’s at his best when he’s not constrained to certain parts of the floor, as the triangle can do to point guards, but Chris Paul’s also the best point guard in the league.{{1}}[[1]]Saying Deron Williams is the best point guard in the league is a clause in Deron’s extension.[[1]] This team will be fun as hell.

From the Nets’ perspective, A deal for Andrew Bynum all but takes the Lakers out of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, taking one major player for the latest “Superstar New Jersey throws itself into the mix for” off the table. Pau Gasol is their only major trade chip left, and even though he’s a better player than Bynum or Brook Lopez, Gasol doesn’t help the Magic rebuild or move forward in any way. So this deal was cool for a lot of reasons.

At 6:06 PM EST:

http://twitter.com/#!/WojYahooNBA/status/144915833947291649

Okay. This is a little different. Firstly, I can’t believe the Lakers are trading away Gasol — the power forward that all but shut down Dwight Howard in single coverage in the 2009 Finals, and if it wasn’t for the immense power of Kobe could’ve won a Finals MVP in 2010. With Andrew Bynum suspended for the first five games for clocking Puerto Rican leprechaun JJ Barea in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers front line was looking like Derrick Caracter and … well, nobody. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work… but still, Chris Paul! Kobe Bryant! Fun as hell! Long destroy the triangle! Mike Brown has absolutely no shot at controlling these two, but so what? He doesn’t need to! It’s probably better that they control him!

Still, this bothered the hell out of me. If the Lakers acquired CP3 without giving up Bynum, that still loosely leaves them in the Superman sweepstakes. The fewer players on the market for him, the better for Brooklyn. Make no mistake, though: a potential big 3 of CP3, Kobe, and Dwight? As an NBA fan, I’m salivating. Regardless of how you feel about superteams, they’d play some amazing basketball. You know, until the meniscus’s they don’t have grind them to a screeching halt.

At 6:21 EST:

http://twitter.com/#!/WojYahooNBA/status/144919599631183872

At this point, I skipped entirely over how Gasol would look as the #1 in New Orleans, as I hadn’t even considered how the potential deal impacted the Hornets. But now the picture was somehow clearer and yet completely cloudy. New Orleans’s starting five is Jack, Martin, Ariza, Scola, and Okafor? Two average players under 29 and three above average players over 29? How is this a formula for doing anything? You don’t rebuild with these pieces and you definitely don’t contend with them. On top of that, how does this work under the cap? The Lakers are sending away $27.2 million in salary and only getting Chris Paul. Something’s up. My brain began to lag behind around this point, and we’d only known about the deal for roughly 20 minutes.

And the Rockets? The Rockets! Building around Gasol, with Chase Budinger, Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson, maybe Aaron Brooks, and enough space under the cap to sign Nene? That team is suddenly looking pretty fantastic, in a “wow, that team doesn’t have any superstars, but they’re still winning 48 games in a shortened season and probably snaring a top-4 seed in the tough West for reasons no one can explain” kind of way.

At 6:26 EST:

http://twitter.com/#!/WojYahooNBA/status/144920849655406593

Oooookay. Waiiiiiiit a second. I see that tone. That’s the same tone I saw on about 30 official tweets in a six-month period about Carmelo Anthony and a certain New Jersey franchise. “We’re almost there.” “We’re in the home stretch.” “Deal’s just about done.” This past year has taught me to be highly skeptical of any tweets that don’t say it’s over, done, finished, completed, or any other adjective in the same realm. It’s at this point I start balking: maybe it’s not going to happen after all. Maybe they’ll get hung up on whether or not the Rockets should include a 2013 second-rounder or something and the whole deal falls apart. Or maybe it’s a bluff by New Orleans, in the hope that the Golden State Warriors or Los Angeles Clippers will balk on their original claims and include Stephen Curry or Eric Gordon in their packages for CP3.

Either way, starting to buy the deal way less.

At 7:06 PM:

http://twitter.com/#!/WojYahooNBA/status/144930946297245696

Welp. Never mind that last thing.

At 7:22 PM:

http://twitter.com/#!/WojYahooNBA/status/144934893594476545

Okay. Not an amazing haul for New Orleans — I still think this leaves them in a weird sort of limbo. But if Chris Paul is gone anyway, this isn’t terrible. My only issue with the deal is when you’re backed against a wall and have to deal a player of CP3’s caliber, you either want equal value (which never happens) or the ability to rebuild for the future with a ton of young pieces (which sometimes/usually happens, a la Denver or Utah). Don’t really think this deal did either for them, though they can still move pieces. Still good value overall for New Orleans, Houston comes out well too, and the Lakers now have potentially the best backcourt tandem ever, with a shot at getting the best big man of his generation.

At 8:52 PM:

http://twitter.com/#!/WojYahooNBA/status/144957552705277952

Okay. Wait a second. What now?

http://twitter.com/#!/WojYahooNBA/status/144958194781925376

I’m going to stop the Twitter timeline from here, because you see where this is going — the league killed the deal, citing “basketball reasons,” a “disconsolate” Hornets GM Dell Demps nearly retired, and Dan Gilbert (who else?) sent an e-mail to David Stern leaked by Yahoo! calling the trade a “travesty” and contradicting himself within two sentences regarding the luxury tax, revenue sharing, and trade exceptions. My brain is a puddle, and David Stern is pouring acid rain into it.

In a weird way, I don’t entirely disapprove of the league exercising its right to block the trade — they do own the Hornets, after all, and as the owner of a team, you have the right to make the final say on any trades your franchise makes. Chris Paul is an enormous asset for the Hornets, after all. There’s nothing blatantly against the rules here.

The issue here is that the league owns the Hornets in the first place. And however unavoidable it may be, you swim knee-deep in collusion with any transaction.

You don’t allow your general manager to pursue deals for months, only to veto at the last second after the deal’s already done. You don’t take “advise” from Dan Gilbert and your 29 1/29th-owners after the fact. This entire time, it was widely known that Chris Paul was a tradeable asset, that the Hornets were looking to make a deal, and when Demps found one worth taking, the league completely pulled the rug out from under him and Chris Paul.

The NBA just endured a five-month lockout that essentially amounted to pissed-off owners bitching about their inability to control the uncontrollable human element. No collective bargaining agreement is going to change the effect of personal decision-making, despite how much you think splitting the basketball-related income down the middle changes things. There’s no deal in the league that’ll turn Cleveland into Los Angeles. Superstars run the league because superstars are the league. They play where they choose to play because they’re in a class of less than a dozen people who happen to be the best in the world at their craft. And there’s something innately odd about a legion (and I mean legion, as all 29 owners have a stake in New Orleans) of older, richer, whiter owners attempting to control the destinies and destinations of the human beings they employ that serve as their product.

For a wild stretch starting around 6 PM tonight, Chris Paul was headed to the Lakers. By some combination of buffoonery, Dan Gilbert-y, and structural power imbalance, the NBA destroyed an allegedly completed deal to send Chris Paul to the Lakers.

Oh, and free agency officially begins at 2 P.M. today.

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