Los Angeles Lakers’ True Rebuild Was Set Back by Failed Chris Paul Trade

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Speaking with a Los Angeles Lakers staffer, I begin my sentence with the following words:

“What would have happened if…”

Five utterly innocuous and totally general words are enough for that person to interrupt me with two words—flatly stated, spot-on.

“Chris Paul.”

Twenty-six months have passed since the Lakers had the deal done to acquire Paul from the New Orleans Hornets in a three-team trade sending Pau Gasol to the Houston Rockets and Lamar Odom to the Hornets. As much as has happened to the team in the past two years, CP3 going in and out still remains the missed shot at the forefront of the minds of Lakers staffers, executives and fans.

That trade on the eve of post-lockout training camp was agreed upon, but less than an hour later, it was blocked by NBA commissioner David Stern, whose office had assumed ownership of the Hornets and thus held the final say over what personnel decisions the Hornets made—even though Stern had never interceded before.

An NBA spokesman said then that the trade was stopped for “basketball reasons,” but there was also an uproar among the owners of clubs in less glamorous markets about the Lakers both landing Paul and shedding payroll in the trade—immediately after those same owners had just reluctantly agreed to end a lockout meant to level the competitive playing field.

The Houston Rockets are in town Wednesday night to play the Lakers, and if the trade had gone through, the Rockets would be altogether different now—presumably led not by James Harden and Dwight Howard, but by Gasol.

Instead, Gasol still sits here by the shore, sweating the Thursday NBA trade deadline as the time the Lakers might finally ship him out.

The question of whether Howard would’ve become a Laker at all and might still be there is just...

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