December 15, 2011
No matter what David Stern says, the controversy surrounding the Chris Paul trade(s) started because he was initially going to the Los Angeles Lakers, the league's marquee franchise. As Dan Gilbert's strongly worded letter showed, small-market clubs still harbor a good deal of animosity towards their big-market colleagues. It's not too surprising either, because the dynamic between those franchises is what caused the lockout in the first place.
In the NBA's perfect world, that first veto would have solved this problem entirely. Unfortunately, CP3 now finds himself with the Clippers, who, awful franchise history aside, just happen to play in the same city and building as the Hollywood Lakers. With Paul and Griffin, the Clippers could become the league's new "it" team and drive even more attention to L.A. Those are the kinds of changes that create new brands for a franchise and eventually turn them into destinations for free agents. We're a ways away from that outcome, and it's by no means a sure thing (Paul's knee is not the most dependable body part in the NBA), but it's possible to imagine the Clippers eventually becoming a second powerhouse in Los Angeles. And, if that happens, Gilbert's complaints will have caused exactly the outcome he tried to avoid the first time.
Whether or not that's a bad thing depends on your point of view. Big-market, star-laden teams have been proven to drive interest in the NBA, particularly in terms of TV ratings. On the other hand, the introduction of another L.A. contender will make high-profile players even more likely to shy away from small markets. That's a competitive balance problem, in a way, but also not, if you believe that one more serious contender in the mix makes the NBA fairer and more interesting. It's not an argument about competitive balance so much as one about competitive financing.
The Clippers might blow this opportunity and return to their previous state of ineptitude -- Donald Sterling has obviously proven firmly capable of screwing up this team even when it looked ready to become legitimate. But, for now, it's possible that David Stern has brought about the exact situation he and the small-market owners he represents were trying to avoid. Bizarrely, it might actually be in the NBA's best interest.