ORLANDO — Shall we call him “Daffy,” “Donald,” or “Floyd Mayweather?”
Which “duck” moniker is most fitting?
Because NBA commissioner David Stern, asked a fair question tonight by yours truly at his annual All-Star news conference, did the finest bob-and-weave in NBA history while refusing to answer whether squashing the trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers was the right thing to do.
Here is a transcript of the back-and-forth:
Q. It’s been two months now since you vetoed the Chris Paul to the Lakers trade, and it’s given you two months of the benefit of hindsight and two months to look at the impact it’s had on several teams, the Clippers, the Lakers and especially the Hornets. Given the benefit of that hindsight, was that veto, since you’ve never done one before, the right thing to do, and why?
STERN: You’ve been around too long to phrase the question that way. I didn’t veto anything. We are acting on behalf of the owners, as the owners’ rep. New Orleans decided not to make the trade.
Q. Well, whose decision was it to stop the trade?
STERN: No, not to stop. There’s no superstar that gets traded in this league unless the owner says, go ahead with it. And in the case of New Orleans, the representative of the owner said, “That’s not a trade we’re going to make.”
Q. But that representative was you?
Q. So in effect then, you said the trade is not going to go through?
STERN: I said that New Orleans would not make the trade that had been proposed to them.
Q. And was that the right move to make?
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: You know, buy a ticket and see. We’ll see how it works out.
Q. I hate to press you on it, and I don’t want to break decorum ‑‑
STERN: No, that’s okay, go ahead.
Q. The Hornets didn’t make out as well in that trade as they would have made out in the earlier trade in terms of talent. The best player they’ve got is injured and the draft pick is the same draft pick.
STERN: I could go toe to toe. It wouldn’t be breaking decorum, it would be taking a lot of people’s time. You’re arguing whether we thought Marc Gasol would be an All‑Star.
Q. I think we’ve always been in agreement on that.
STERN: You knew he was going to be an All‑Star?
Q. Absolutely, sir. I cover a lot of international basketball.
COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: Okay, I have no further questions for the witness then. Next question.
And that was how the exchange ended.
No clear answer for Lakers fans.
No clear answer for Hornets fans.
No suitable explanation for why a deal that would have brought the Hornets the foursome of Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Lamar Odom and the Knicks’ first-round pick was deemed inferior to what New Orleans settled for — Eric Gordon (who has played 2 games and will be a restricted free agent this summer), Chris Kaman (who is trade bait), Al-Farouq Aminu and a first-round pick from the Timberwolves that’s basically of the same value as the Knicks’ pick the Hornets would have gotten in the original deal.
“Buy a ticket and see. We’ll see how it works out,” is not a suitable answer.
Frankly, I reckon I’ve covered between 60 to 80 Stern press conferences in my 17 years as an NBA writer, and I’ve never seen him duck a question like that.
I’ve seen him swat away bad questions, I’ve seen him belittle those who have posed ridiculous questions. I’ve seen him give an answer without actually answering the specific question that was posed, but I’ve never seen him duck like that.
I am no stranger to having a little back-and-forth with an attorney, and I don’t have a problem with it because it comes from my heritage (my grandfather Michael was a County Judge in Milwaukee from 1906 until 1956, and my grandfather, Emmet, practiced law in Milwaukee, too.) I also don’t have a problem being persistent when asking a reasonable question, a trait I learned watching my dad, Bob, run the news desk at the New York Times every night for 33 years (when I was a kid, he let me tag along).
So that explains my persistence, and I will do Mr. Afraid Of Pacquiao a favor and provide his side of the story in regards to his non-answer.
It was explained to me afterward that Stern took issue with my choice of the word “veto” because in the legal language of the league office, a trade is only “vetoed” when it is presented for approval and does not pass muster under salary cap guidelines.
So he ducked it on the basis of semantics.
But Stern understood the meaning behind the question, and his lack of a thoughtful response was regrettable. If that, ahem, veto did not happen, the Hornets would be in playoff contention, the Lakers would still be the darlings of Los Angeles, and the Clippers would still be a joke instead of a phenomenon.
None of that has happened because of what Stern did after Hornets general manager Dell Demps submitted for approval what would have been a great trade.
Stern turned it down for what were initially described as “basketball reasons.”
The following day, the NBA released this statement:
“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. 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.”
In hindsight, was that a smart decision?
It is still a legitimate question, and it apparently remain unanswered for the foreseeable future.
And as I said before, Lakers fans, Hornets fans and NBA fans deserve better.
They deserved a straight answer.