David Stern's NBA still owns the New Orleans Hornets, and the franchise faces a serious decision on Wednesday: should the team ink star guard Eric Gordon to a long-term contract extension? Wednesday is the deadline for early extensions to be signed by fourth-year players who were first-round picks in the 2008 NBA Draft; Gordon went No. 7 in that derby to the L.A. Clippers, and was the centerpiece of the Hornets' incoming package in Stern's Chris Paul trade.
There's a complicating factor on top of the complicating factors here: Gordon has been injured all season -- he's played twice for the Hornets -- and will be out another three weeks. While Gordon's value has been pretty well determined over the past three seasons as a brilliant scorer who can shoot and drive, the Hornets would no doubt have preferred to see the two-guard in action before committing tens of millions of dollars. They will not have had that opportunity when Wednesday's deadline arrives.
It'd be a difficult decision for New Orleans regardless of the ownership situation, especially since we're likely talking about a contract in the neighborhood of $50 million for four years. But given the league's ownership of the franchise this just has to be that much more messy ... just like the Chris Paul debacle.
Apparently, Stern enjoyed the dramatics of the CP3 ordeal so much he wanted another round. From the great Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:
Gordon's agent, Rob Pelinka, has engaged in recent contract talks with the Hornets' front office, but hasn't received an official offer. Gordon told Yahoo! Sports on Monday night he was informed by Hornets general manager Dell Demps that Stern must decide whether to extend an offer. The NBA owns the Hornets. Gordon wants to re-sign with New Orleans, but is uncertain if or when Stern will reach out to him or Pelinka.
"In terms of my contract extension, Dell Demps indicated that it's out of his control and NBA commissioner David Stern has the last determination on the contract extension," said Gordon, who will be a restricted free agent this summer if he doesn't sign an extension.
We have less than 48 hours to go, and Gordon's agent hasn't even received an offer from the Hornets because the Hornets can't extend an offer without the approval of the league commissioner. How about that? A young player Stern claimed the Hornets could build around after trading CP3 is waving in the wind ... as the commissioner decides how he wants to run a team he's trying to sell.
This is ridiculously unfair to the Hornets players -- not just Gordon, but the whole squad. The Hornets have the worst record in the West at 3-14, and based on the last couple weeks, they appear to be a lock to finish in the league's bottom three. It's not that Monty Williams isn't coaching his ass off -- New Orleans has nearly stolen a couple games due solely to defensive pluck and strategy -- or that the players aren't going hard. (They are. This club is filled with high-motor guys.) It's that the team was gutted by the CP3 trade and a wasted free agency period, and that the loss of Gordon is too much to survive.
Uncertainty is a helluva state to put folks in, and the franchise has gotten no more stable under Stern than it was under the going-broke George Shinn. This is part and parcel of Stern's decision to meddle. It didn't have to happen when the league took over the club. When the league made that decision -- with unanimous approval from the other 29 owners -- Stern said he'd leave the basketball decisions to the basketball staff. That's Dell Demps and Hugh Weber. No, things had to go like this once Stern stepped into the CP3 whirlwind and vetoed a trade to the L.A. Lakers as the world lit itself on fire in protest of the rich getting richer.
Despite Stern's promise, Demps and Weber didn't have the authority to trade Chris Paul, and they don't have the authority to extend Eric Gordon. But hey, they are totally clear to handle whatever Squeaky Johnson and Gustavo Ayon business they need to take care of. It's a lie Stern still hasn't retracted except to intone how important to the future of the franchise getting the CP3 trade right would have been. I guess Gordon falls under the same category: too important for a plebe like Demps to handle. Lifetime lawyers at the league office need to handle that one.
Here's what really gets me: this is an abuse of power. These negotiations are held in the shadows, but we know the type of bargainer David Stern has always been. He's a ballbuster. He talks about "enormous consequences" and "nuclear winters" and chides anyone who dares stick a toe in his path. As he reportedly told Billy Hunter and a locker room full of NBA All-Stars a year ago, he knows where the bodies are buried, because he put some of them there.
A man with this power is pulling the strings on the contract extension of an otherwise normal young stud. One thing that has yet to be explained by the CP3 ordeal is why Paul agreed so readily to pick up his player option for the 2012-13 season before the trade.
Remember: he wanted to go to the New York Knicks or Lakers, not the Clippers. Yet as the trade talks dragged on, CP3 agreed to stay in L.A. at least one more year ... delaying his free agency and another big payday by a season and neutering his own power in the trade game. Why? The Clips are not such a model of stability that instant success in L.A. could have been assured, and it's not as if Paul would have feared his ability to call his shot in free agency in 2012.
Did Stern or his cadre of confidants talk to CP3 before that deal went down to convince him this was the only way to get traded? Given Stern's ultimate power in the league and his clear willingness to use it like a cudgel, isn't that an abuse of authority? Consider that in the context of Gordon, whose contract fate now rests with the boss. If Stern makes a lowball offer, will Gordon feel pressure to take it lest he become a pebble kicked out of the commissioner's path? It sounds ridiculous, but this is DAVID STERN we're talking about. When it comes to running a boardroom, you can't really put anything past him.
Here's the bright side: simply by talking about the situation on the record, Gordon and his sharp-like-knives agent Rob Pelinka (who also represents Kobe Bryant) have shown they won't cower in Stern's presence. Talking to Spears about Stern's repeat offense of meddling in team affairs is real cannon fire, and truth be told, Stern has shown at times that he responds to cannon fire better than weak-kneed submission. Pelinka's play could be what gets a deal done ...
... or it could be that which sends Eric Gordon straight to restricted free agency, where his fate will be decided by the market and the future owner of the Hornets. In the end, Gordon faces the same uncertainty colleagues like Kevin Love, Nicolas Batum and Roy Hibbert do. The only difference is how we get there, and Gordon's path goes right through the NBA's most prickly thistle.
The difference is that the future of the NBA in New Orleans is more vulnerable than anywhere else. If Stern plays hardball and Gordon leaves in 2012 or 2013, then New Orleans is left with only Al-Farouq Aminu and a mid-first round draft pick to show for Chris Paul. That brings us back to square one with Stern as New Orleans' decision-maker, back to the night he nixed the Lakers trade: we have no idea what priorities trump those of the Hornets and New Orleans itself in Stern's decision-making process. Is he playing hardball with Gordon for the good of the Hornets' future and New Orleans' fans, or to keep the other league owners off of his back?
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