The New Orleans Hornets, owned by the league, had agreed to a three-team trade Thursday that would have sent their All-Star point guard to the Los Angeles Lakers. But the league killed the deal for "basketball reasons" and has denied the decision came about because of pressure on Commissioner David Stern from angry owners.
The 26-year-old Paul was seen walking into New Orleans' training facility Friday wearing a black Hornets practice jersey.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told a radio station the league went through the lockout to prevent this very type of deal in which small-market teams lose their superstars. And a letter from Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to Stern clearly showed he, too, objected to the deal.
"I just don't see how we can allow this trade to happen," Gilbert wrote in the letter, which was obtained by Yahoo Sports and The New York Times.
He added: "I know the vast majority of owners feel the same way that I do."
Utah Jazz president Randy Rigby said owners had no say in vetoing the trade but applauded the move.
"I'm one who likes to see the market and teams that have invested in a player and helped develop a player have an opportunity to have that player be a long-time part of that community," Rigby said. "As a small-market team, it's very important. ... We had a lot of years of success with certain players named John Stockton, Karl Malone, who invested and committed to a community. That community committed back, and we saw a lot of success together."
Hall of Famer Magic Johnson took the opposite stance, writing on Twitter on Friday that it was the "wrong decision" by Stern and the owners.
Stern responded in a statement, saying the Hornets were "better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade."
The angry reaction to the trade threatened to overshadow what should have been a positive day around the NBA, the opening of free agency and training camps following the five-month lockout.
"2day was suppose 2 be a happy day for the NBA. Practice starts but I woke up to all this mess. Summer of 2010 looks pretty normal now," Miami's Dwyane Wade wrote on Twitter.
When LeBron James and Chris Bosh left their small-market teams to build a potential powerhouse with Wade in Miami, it gave owners even more motivation to seek changes that would limit the big spenders' advantages in the new collective bargaining agreement. Yet the idea of Paul in Los Angeles — on the very day the CBA was being ratified — served to make the entire work stoppage seem like a waste.
"We just had a lockout, and one of the goals of the lockout was to say that small-market teams now have a chance to keep their players, and the rules were designed to give them that opportunity," Cuban told ESPN 103.3 in Dallas. "So to all of a sudden have a league-owned team trade their best player, particularly after having gone out and sold a ton of tickets in that market, that's not the kind of signal you want to send."
Though Paul has never said so, there has long been speculation he would leave New Orleans when he can become a free agent this summer. The Hornets have been working to make sure they get something for him, and the proposed deal Thursday would have netted them some talent in return.
"Of course, Dell (Demps) and Monty (Williams) were very upset when everything fell through," said a person familiar with the work the general manager and coach had put into negotiations that led to the proposed trade. "They had spent a lot of time on it and they thought it was a great deal for the team."
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
The Hornets would have received Lamar Odom, last year's top sixth man, from the Lakers, as well as forward Luis Scola, shooting guard Kevin Martin, point guard Goran Dragic and a first-round draft choice from the Houston Rockets. And the Lakers' Pau Gasol would have gone to the Rockets.
That's far better than the Hornets may get in another deal, since many teams are hesitant to offer their top players in case Paul intends to only stay one season.
"Wrong decision by Stern & the owners," Johnson wrote. "Sends a bad message to fans. Was a good deal for the Lakers, Hornets & Rockets-everyone got better."
The NBA took over ownership of the Hornets from George Shinn last December until a buyer could be found. The hope has long been to keep the franchise in New Orleans, and the team recently announced it sold 10,000 season tickets.
An NBA statement Thursday night said the trade was blocked for "basketball reasons." However, Stern said Friday he also considered the Hornets' business performance when killing the deal.
"Since the NBA purchased the New Orleans Hornets, final responsibility for significant management decisions lies with the Commissioner's office in consultation with team chairman Jac Sperling. All decisions are made on the basis of what is in the best interests of the Hornets," Stern said in the statement. "In the case of the trade proposal that was made to the Hornets for Chris Paul, we decided, free from the influence of other NBA owners, that the team was better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade."
The Lakers' Gasol took in stride, ready to go back to work. He tweeted: "New day my friends. On my way to El Segundo for the first day of training camp ..."
Despite Gasol's positive attitude, Stern's statement likely will only generate more anger as players report to camps throughout the day. Bad feelings remain from the CBA negotiations, during which Stern upset players who knew they'd be making financial concessions with what they considered "take-it-or-leave-it" proposals. Paul was a member of the players' executive committee.
"This is a perfect example of the things that were so alarming during the lockout, that the owners don't want players to have freedom of choice and that doesn't work when you're dealing with the most talented people in the world at their profession," said agent Mark Bartelstein, who didn't have a player in the proposed deal.
"When you look at other entertainers, they get perform where they want. They get to make choices on what they want to do with their careers, what movie they want to be in, what city they want to perform in. Owners are doing everything they can to ratchet down freedom of choice for players."
AP Sports Writers Brett Martel in New Orleans and Lynn DeBruin in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.