Chris Paul was so close to being a Laker, he says, that he was all set to get on a plane bound for L.A. when he was informed that things had changed.
That was 2011, at the time of the well-documented Trade That Wasn’t, the one that would have sent Paul from New Orleans to the Lakers shortly after the league had resolved its lockout with the players union that winter. The whole thing came apart when commissioner David Stern, who was also acting as the steward of the NBA’s New Orleans franchise (then the Hornets) as the team awaited a buyer, nixed the trade, forcing the Hornets to reconfigure a Paul deal.
Eventually, he was sent to the Clippers. Paul is still crestfallen about the failed transaction, which has taken on new meaning for him since Stern passed away on January 1 and Kobe Bryant—his would-be co-star teammate with the Lakers—died in a tragic helicopter crash 25 days later.
Speaking to Taylor Rooks of Bleacher Report, Paul said, “It’s even crazier to think about it now given the situation in the past few months, losing Kob and David Stern. Man, it would have been special.”
Pau also revealed just how certain he was that he’d be in the gold-and-purple. “I’ll talk about it at some point,” Paul said, “but me and Kob had actually got on the phone and talked about this and that. Me and my brother was about to get on a flight to fly to L.A. Ah, man, there are times when I be like, this would have been—but I can’t. I can’t get caught up in that. It all worked out.”
Chris Paul-to-Lakers Was the Better Deal for New Orleans
In retrospect, the original deal involving Paul was a better trade for New Orleans than what it got from the Clippers.
In the Lakers trade, former Hornets GM Dell Demps thought he worked out a trade that would keep New Orleans competitive while also securing some pieces to bolster the outlook for the future.
Demps was to bring in sharpshooter Kevin Martin, versatile big man Luis Scola, 25-year-old point guard Goran Dragic (who had not yet gotten a chance to be a starter in the league) and the Knicks’ 2012 draft pick, all from Houston. They’d also get big man Lamar Odom from the Lakers.
The Rockets were slated to receive All-Star center Pau Gasol.
The Hornets’ return package instead was oft-injured guard Eric Gordon, big man Chris Kaman, forward Al-Farouq Aminu and a draft pick. The team went from reaching the postseason in three of four previous seasons to missing the playoffs three straight years.
Paul went to a Clippers team—with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan—that never quite lived up to its billing. Paul’s Clippers never got past the postseason’s second round. Paul himself has never appeared in the NBA Finals.
Decision to Nix Trade Bothered Kobe Bryant
In the wake of the lockout, which had been fought, in part, to give a better opportunity to compete to smaller markets, Stern had gotten pressure from team owners to pull the trade. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert sent an angry email to Stern that went public, in which he suggested the trade be put to a vote of fellow owners. Emphasizing the competitive imbalance in the league, he wrote, “When will we just change the name of 25 of the 30 teams to the Washington Generals?”
Thus Stern vetoed the trade and the league never got to see what might have been with Bryant and Paul. The Lakers were not able to bring in another superstar at the tail end of Bryant’s career and missed the playoffs from 2014-19, the longest stretch in franchise history.
The fact that he never got to play alongside Paul always bothered Bryant as much as it bothers Paul.
“The NBA vetoed the trade,” Bryant told GQ in 2015. “But the Lakers pulled that … off, and no one would have thought it was even possible. The trade got vetoed, because they’d just staged the whole lockout to restrict the Lakers. [GM] Mitch [Kupchak] got penalized for being smart. But if we could do that …”
If the Lakers could have done that … well, we’ll never know.