In Defense of David Stern

Published: December 11, 2011

I woke up today to find myself wondering why in the world I’m angry with David Stern, the owner. Here’s a guy who has done just about everything he can to ensure that the New Orleans Hornets get on financially sound footing. He took the unprecedented step of taking control of the team from a private owner in order to keep them in New Orleans, something that was unlikely to seriously even be considered had Shinn sold to the highest bidder, which he presumably would have. Even now, if Stern wanted, he could probably sell the team for upwards of 400 million to someone looking to move them elsewhere.

Yet he doesn’t.

Stern’s decision to veto the trade, assuming it was done as an owner, is not at all unprecedented. It’s not at all shocking or outrageous. Perhaps the most amazing part of it all is simply that the trade was so publicly discussed before it had the approval of the real Hornets decision maker, the NBA. This was more of a communication issue than anything else, one that really should have been dealt with and clarified long ago.

Stern said that Sperling and Weber were the guys running the show and that if they approved of a deal, the league would also.  The Hornets moved forward with the trade without Stern actually saying “Sounds good” because the local brass thought it was their right to do that. Hell, they were pretty much told it was their right to do that. It’s an unusual situation because it appears that neither party was on the same page in terms of the actual protocol for trading players. Normally GM’s go to owners before accepting a deal with another team.

The problem is obviously that there is technically no one owner. There is a governor, a president, a GM, a commissioner, and an NBA, but no real traditional owner. So if you’re going to be mad at Stern, do it for him not explaining to anyone that he’s the Hornets owner and that he has final say.

So let’s go from there. Stern is the de facto owner.

Now that we know he’s in charge, can we really be mad at him for vetoing the deal? Yes and no, but that doesn’t matter. If he’s the damned owner, he can do whatever he wants. He can veto a deal because he doesn’t like the style of an incoming player’s hair. He can refuse make a trade because it’s a Tuesday and he doesn’t like deals that originate on Tuesdays.

In this case, I presume he didn’t make the deal because there was no young budding star or near-certain high draft picks incoming. The Hornets would have been OK on the court for a few years, but it would have been next to impossible for them to get to championship caliber without getting flat out lucky in the draft. There was nobody sexy to sell fans on either this year or next, and because of that, Stern decided that even though talent-wise the Hornets probably got a lot more than they gave back, it still wasn’t the right deal for a franchise about to be re-born.

Odom was a bit of a wild card in the deal since he was likely to be dealt for something better at some point, but who needs a player like Odom except a contender? What contender has either a young star or a lottery pick in the next draft to give up? Maybe the Clippers, but if they were hesitant to deal that pick for Paul, they might not be so inclined to do it for Odom, either.

In my opinion, those are the “basketball reasons” that Stern was referring to when he rejected the trade.

David Stern and Chris Paul are probably the two people who deserve to be patted on the back most for keeping a team in New Orleans that most of America predicted would be gone years ago. They went above and beyond what they were obligated to do for this city, yet ironically they are among the two most hated people in New Orleans right now.

Wake up, Hornets fans. These are still the good guys.