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David Stern tramples L.A. hopes when he should’ve walked away

Five days into this new NBA, there is already a new rivalry .

The city of Los Angeles versus David Stern.

We don’t like each other, not anymore, not one bit, not after the NBA commissioner’s misuse of his powers has ripped out the heart of one Los Angeles team and the hopes of the other.

Stern is the Boston Celtics with a smug grin. He is the Dallas Mavericks with a weak spine. He wears a suit, but he has shamefully spent the last week as if sitting in a Sacramento cheap seat screaming a chant that can be heard from here to Bourbon Street.

“Beat L.A!” David Stern hollered, speaking as the de facto owner of the New Orleans Hornets, a position that should never be held by the boss of any league.

Yes, since last season, the NBA has owned the failing Hornets. So, yes, as the NBA’s top executive, Stern has the right to veto Hornets trades like Jerry Buss can veto Lakers trades.

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But should he? Shouldn’t those calls be made by an independent consultant working in close conjunction with the New Orleans basketball people? Shouldn’t basketball learn from baseball, which in recent years has quietly and successfully overseen transitions within the Dodgers, the Texas Rangers and the Washington Nationals?

Stern has the right to run the Hornets, but the duty to stay out of their business, a duty he has recently ignored, such that the integrity of the league has suffered more in five days than during the lockout’s 149 days.

“Completely unexpected,” is how Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak describes Stern’s behavior, and he’s being completely kind, because Stern has been completely derelict in his mandate to treat all 30 NBA teams equally.

First, on Thursday, Stern and his lieutenants killed a trade of star point guard Chris Paul to the Lakers, under pressure from other league owners, which included a venomous email from Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert. Then, Monday, under the direction of Stern’s office, the Hornets ground down the Clippers until their proposed trade also vanished.

The Lakers and Clippers deals weren’t killed in the same fashion; Stern’s involvement in the Clippers deal was less direct, as the Clippers have dealt only with Hornets GM Dell Demps, and there is still a chance that Demps can sell some form of this deal to Stern. But in both cases, the damage caused by a commissioner’s office with a huge conflict of interest could be considerable.

Start with the Lakers. Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol were gone. Then they weren’t. Then Odom became so upset at the idea that the Lakers didn’t want him, he demanded to be gone, giving the Lakers the excuse they needed to ship him out and save about $34 million in salary and luxury tax.

I’d be screaming at Mitch Kupchak right now if I wasn’t so mad at Stern.

Next up, the Clippers, who waded through the Lakers carnage to forge a solid deal that would send to the Hornets Chris Kaman, Eric Bledsoe, Al-Farouq Aminu and a 2012 first-round draft pick from Minnesota that would surely be high lottery.

Stern’s biggest complaints about the Lakers deal seemingly were all answered in the Clippers deal. These guys were younger and more athletic, with Kaman’s huge contract coming off the books after this season and that draft pick potentially worthy of a franchise cornerstone.

Yet on Monday, suddenly, the Hornets killed the deal because the players were too young, with too many uncertainties, and they wanted Eric Gordon. The Clippers would not trade their elite young shooting guard, and I don’t blame them, and how can Stern have it both ways?

He thought the Lakers, combined with the Houston Rockets in that three-team trade, were not giving the Hornets enough future value. Yet now he feels the Clippers were not giving them enough present value? How does that make sense?

More important, why are we even having this conversation? Since when should it matter what David Stern wants? Because the NBA owns the Hornets, Stern claims he has the right to do this. But because he is supposed to be an impartial leader of the game, Stern has no business doing it.

Last season when the NBA took over the Hornets and Paul was making noise about leaving after his contract expired this season, none other than Phil Jackson predicted this.

“Who’s going to pull the button on it?” Jackson said at the time. “When Chris says he has to be traded, how’s that going to go? Someone’s going to have to make a very nonjudgmental decision on that part that’s not going to irritate anyone else in the league.”

Decisions have since been made, but they don’t seem very nonjudgmental, and they have gone against the interests of both teams in Los Angeles, which makes me think Stern should have two choices.

As owner of the Hornets, if he can’t approve a deal that would give the franchise a future in the wake of the impending departure of its best player, then he should just shut down the franchise.

If he doesn’t shut down the franchise, then he should figure out a way to make that trade with the Clippers, wash his hands, and try to avoid sticking them where they don’t belong.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke


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