What happened on Thursday night was nothing short of astounding. It was honestly the most unprecedented thing David Stern had ever done, not to mention the most ill-timed, not to mention the most egregious. Not even 24 hours after a new CBA between the players and the owners had been ratified, Stern obliterated even the faintest chance that the two sides had really found common ground, vetoing a perfectly reasonable trade that would've sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to the Rockets, and Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and Lamar Odom to New Orleans on the grounds of "basketball reasons."
Was it a criminal action? No, not really. A similar situation occurred in the 70's, when MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn vetoed a move made by A's owner Charlie O. Finley on the equally murky claim that it was in "the best interests of baseball." A lawsuit occurred, and the court sided with the defendant, claiming that the commissioner had the right to exercise what he thought was rightful action. Stern has had autonomy over the NBA for years, far more than any baseball commissioner has had, and it's hard to think his annexing of the trade was in any way inconsistent with the powers he has been vested with.
The circumstances of Kuhn's veto mirror Stern's closely. Finley was trying to trade away players he no longer valued for a profit, essentially selling them straight-up for cash. Dell Demps, the Hornets GM, was also trying to get something in return for his team's prized commodity, knowing that soon Chris Paul was going to leave for somewhere else, and they'd be left with nothing to show for him.
In both instances, the commissioners grossly overstepped their boundaries. However unseemly selling his players may have seemed, Finley had every right to do it, the same way it would've been completely acceptable to trade one of his stars for a player worth exactly as much as he would've gotten by selling him; all he did was cut out the middle man. But at least Kuhn had a semi-feasible argument that what Finley was doing wasn't in good faith. What Stern did was utterly indefensible. Demps was doing what he had to do -- giving the franchise a few spare parts so they don't begin the post-Paul era without anything to build on.
But the league stepped in and voided the deal, and now we have to ask ourselves what sort of decision-making led such a preposterous thing to happen, and what it will do the image of the NBA. As baffling as it was that the league intervened, it's that they did it with the intention of helping the Hornets that's truly astounding. They denied the Hornets three starters and a draft pick and forced them to keep Paul, who's just going to flee the city the first chance he gets. That's supposedly helping. Of course, the real reason Stern blocked the trade was to show the small-town owners that the players weren't going to walk all over them. It's impossible to think he canceled that deal believing the Hornets would be better off from it a year from now.
The biggest reason why the veto was a travesty is that it completely marginalizes whatever integrity the NBA has. This league is a league of conspiracy theories, of people thinking the games are fixed. A lot of fans will say, without hesitation, that Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals was manipulated by the refs so the Lakers could force a Game 7. Others will tell stories of how the league rigged the lottery so the Knicks could wind up with Patrick Ewing, or how the NBA forced Michael Jordan on a "sabbatical" to escape potential gambling charges.
It's a league with a staggering amount of distrust, and what Stern did the other day gave every conspiracy nutcase in the country permanent ammunition to claim the league is rigged. Stern just created a precedent where the NBA executives have an agenda, are not objective, and are willing to interfere with a franchise's decisions for the benefit of themselves, and the detriment of the team. What once looked like invisible hands now appear to be puppet strings, and in the interim, anyone who says the league is corrupt, unfair and biased has a wonderful example that not even the most hardened fan can refute.
What a disaster. David Stern should resign over this and pay the same penalty for tampering that any GM or owner would for doing the same thing, only as the "owner" of the Hornets, his transgression was self-imposed. The only way to right this wrong is for the deal to go through after all, so the league can at least save face and admit it made a mistake. The ramifications of the deal not coming to fruition are so large, and so potentially devastating to the Rockets and Hornets, that I'd be stunned if we don't see a deal similar to the one on Thursday go through at some point this week. It may not be enough to regain people's trust in the league, but it's necessary if anyone's to take David Stern seriously from this point on.