Few days in Lakers history, if any, were like Thursday, with Chris Paul seemingly on his way to Los Angeles only to see a three-team trade get killed by the NBA.
The Lakers appeared to acquire their most dynamic point guard since Magic Johnson after trading power forwards Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom in a deal involving New Orleans and Houston.
But league officials didn’t like the trade for the Hornets, who were purchased by the NBA last December, and everything was nixed.
Small-market owners were quickly considered deal-killers who got into the ear of NBA Commissioner David Stern and reminded him of the importance of a level playing field in the new collective-bargaining agreement.
An NBA official offered a different opinion.
“It is not true that owners killed the deal,” league spokesman Tim Frank said. “It wasn’t even discussed at the Board [of Governors] meeting. The league office declined to make the trade for basketball reasons.”
Since buying the New Orleans franchise, the NBA left personnel decisions to the Hornets’ front office, but a person familiar with the situation not authorized to speak publicly said the NBA blocked the trade because it “did not like the deal for the Hornets.”
Gasol would have been traded to Houston, Odom to New Orleans. Several Rockets players would have also gone to New Orleans, including forward Luis Scola and guard Kevin Martin, who combined to average 41.7 points last season.
The Hornets would have also received a first-round draft pick from Houston.
Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert called the trade a “travesty” in an email to Stern obtained by Yahoo Sports.
“I just don’t see how we can allow this trade to happen,” Gilbert reportedly wrote. “I know the vast majority of owners feel the same way that I do. When will we just change the name of 25 of the 30 teams to the Washington Generals?”
Gilbert, whose team lost LeBron James to Miami before last season, was referencing the team that always loses to the Harlem Globetrotters in embarrassing fashion.
Nobody seemed more surprised by the death of the deal than Paul.
“WoW,” he wrote on Twitter at 6:11 p.m. PST.
Lakers officials were still hunkered down in a room at the team’s El Segundo headquarters Thursday night, trying to ascertain what to do next.
With training camp starting Friday, they have another problem.
In a phone interview with The Times, Odom said he was sad to hear he was practically traded and wasn’t sure he would attend practice Friday.
“Maybe I’ll see you there,” Odom said, “but I doubt it. You don’t want to go to no place you’re not wanted. I’ll try to give them what they want as much as possible.”
Odom also felt bad for his teammate.
“Imagine how Pau feels,” he said. “Pau came to the Lakers and played here for four years, went to the Finals and lost, won two NBA championships and then got swept [by Dallas]. Wow! Imagine how he must feel.
“Man, I’m just in total disbelief about all of this. They don’t want my services, for whatever reason. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I was proud to be a Laker, so I’ll try to help them in the process as much as possible.”
A person close to Gasol said the Lakers forward was “devastated” by news of the original trade, which was steered by team executive Jim Buss as much, if not more, than General Manager Mitch Kupchak.
The trade would have symbolized the Lakers’ shift from finesse, precision and depth in the frontcourt to speed and athleticism in the backcourt.
Paul, 26, might be the league’s best scoring-passing combo for a guard and can even rebound well for a player listed at 6 feet. He could become a free agent next July, so the Hornets wanted to trade him before this season to avoid distractions that befell the Denver Nuggets last season with Carmelo Anthony.
Paul’s stats were down slightly after he underwent surgery in January 2010 to remove torn cartilage from his left knee. He averaged 15.8 points, 9.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds last season, a dip from career averages of 18.7 points, 9.9 assists and 4.6 rebounds. His contract calls for $16.4million this season and a player option for $17.8million next season.
Gasol, 31, is a four-time All-Star whose acquisition from Memphis in 2008 spurred the Lakers to two NBA championships. However, he slipped badly in last season’s playoffs, averaging 13.1 points and shooting 42%. He is due $57 million over three seasons.
Odom, 32, was acquired by the Lakers in 2004 as part of the Shaquille O’Neal trade. He was the sixth man of the year last season after averaging 14.4 points and 8.7 rebounds. He is due $8.9 million this season and $8.2 million next season.
In much smaller news, the Lakers lost free-agent guard Shannon Brown to the Phoenix Suns after he agreed to a one-year deal for about $1 million more than the $2.4-million player option he declined in June with the Lakers. The Lakers spoke briefly with Brown’s agent when the free-agent courting period began last week, but had moved away from him in recent days.
Also, Jason Kapono showed up for an individual workout Thursday at the Lakers’ training facility after agreeing to a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum of about $1.3 million. A career small forward, the Lakers might try him at shooting guard.
Kapono, 30, has career averages of 6.9 points and 43.7% from three-point range but averaged a career-low 0.7 points and 4.6 minutes last season with Philadelphia.
A big, affable center also walked through the doors of the Lakers’ facility Thursday but it wasn’t Dwight Howard. Free-agent center Marc Gasol worked out there, the last day players could use any team’s facility.
The Lakers’ trade talks with Orlando regarding Howard had lagged well behind negotiations for Paul.
Thursday marked the most upside-down day for the Lakers since Kobe Bryant demanded a trade on a radio show, retracted it on a radio show and then demanded it again a few hours later via The Times, all back in May 2007.
That turned out well for the Lakers. Bryant calmed down, Gasol arrived halfway through the following season, and the Lakers won championships in 2009 and 2010.
The Chris Paul era never quite got off the ground. What comes next is anybody’s guess.