I think I get it now.

Look, I was as angry as anybody last friday when Stern stepped in like a nosy grandfather to kill the 3 way trade that would have brought Chris paul to the Lakers. At the time, it felt to me like Stern was basically laying down the law when it came to superstars thinking they could hand pick where they went, which felt like not only a dick move but the act of a power-crazed man who was losing his grip on reality.

Not only that, it seemed to me that the commissioner’s statement that the move was a “basketball decision”was more or less bullshit. I mean, New Orleans was poised to receive three starters, a solid bench player and draft picks. By my math, that trade was poised to keep the Hornets in playoff contention, at the very least.

 Not a bad haul, all things considered.

Still, Stern stuck to his guns, and I struggled to understand how he or anyone could expect more given the circumstances. Most of the basketball world has been his case for several days, calling him this, that and the other. Bully. Overseer. Drunk with power. Evil dictator. 

I can’t lie, I did too.

Even when the Lakers tried to revive the deal and most of us assumed it would go through with a minor tweak or two, Stern held fast. The world groaned, again. The Lakers threw up their hands in frustration and quickly moved on. In stepped the Clippers with an offer designed to suit Stern’s demands for younger players and draft picks. A future to sell the fans instead of a present.

Well, the Clippers came with the moon, and Stern wanted that and the stars, too. This time, the other L.A. franchise was poised to give up every good young player it had with the exception of Blake Griffin (no chance of that happening) and once again Stern said no. Not enough. Give us your high draft pick, the one you got from Minnesota that is likely to be in the top 5 next year. Enough was enough, said the Clippers.

So after all this, Stern was prepared to walk away from yet another substantial offer and place the franchise in a position to lose Paul to free-agency after this year and end up with nothing? I mean, it’s just doesn’t compute. What in the world could this crazy old dude be thinking?

And then it hit me.

This isn’t about improving them as a team. It’s not about getting full value, since that has a 0% chANce of happening when superstars are dealt. It’s not even about letting Chris Paul and the other superstars know that they can’t just get their way whenever they desire. Okay, it maybe be about that, but only as a corollary.

Seriously though, you know what this is really all about? It’s about Stern protecting the New Orleans franchise, the NBA, and the other 29 owners.

See, the real point here is that the league owns the Hornets, but it was paid for by the other 29 owners, and the endgame for them is to find an owner who will pay a decent enough price for the team, so that  everyone involved ends up winning. Yeah, they want to ensure they get stable ownership in place (which would be a huge step up from former owner George Shinn), but that is a secondary concern. Bottom line is, they want to sell the team for as much as possible.

With all this in mind, ask yourself how much this team is worth with Chris Paul in the fold, and how much less are they worth without him? Then, ask yourself how attractive the Hornets would be with a bunch of high-paid older players like the ones they would have acquired in the Laker deal? Would you buy a team that featured Kevin Martin, Lamar Odom and Luis Scola, had a high payroll, no salary cap space, and no high draft picks for the future? Would anyone?

Hey, as much as you probably don’t want to admit it, Stern’s plan makes sense. It’s not just that he’s the boss, he’s the man in charge of making sure that the franchise his league owns has value to perspective suitors. That’s why he told the Lakers to take a hike, and why he’s trying to squeeze every last dollar out of the Clippers.

It’s that simple.

In a perfect world, Stern finds a way to keep Paul in New Orleans. Deep down, I’m sure he holds out hope that if he keeps driving such a hard bargain, Paul will look around after the season and realize that none of the teams he wants to play for can pay him anywhere near what the Hornets can. After all, the list of professional athletes who are willing to leave millions of dollars on the table is pretty short. It’s a longshot for sure, but crazier things have happened.

Failing that dream scenario, Stern appears content to sit back and wait for someone to break the bank to get CP3. I mean, the Clippers were really close to getting it done, so it’s not a stretch to imagine them caving to Stern’s demands if they get antsy.

And that’s it, really. Call David Stern all the dirty names you want, but at the end of the day he’s just looking out for the Hornets as a team, and doing everything he can to make sure there’s anything left of it when this is over.

Hey, what can I tell you. I’ve seen the light. David Stern is the smarter than you can possibly fathom. He’s proven it once again.

-John Hathwell


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