After being swept by the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers faced an offseason of uncertainty. At the same time, the league braced itself for a pending lockout, putting a halt to all offseason activity. The lockout loomed as a threat to the success the league had built over recent seasons, and they owed much of that to the collective shared disdain for Lebron James and the Miami Heat. Despite losing in the Finals, the Heat were considered a success for landing their “Big Three” of James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, which the Lakers looked to imitate in order to regain their place atop of the NBA ranks.
After the lockout ended, a makeshift free agency transaction period was put together, and no team made a bigger splash during that time than the Lakers. While rumors circulated that the Lakers were in pursuit of trades for both Dwight Howard and Chris Paul to team with Kobe Bryant, the reality of those trades happening seemed minuscule. The team looked towards the acquisition of the two superstars to bolster their franchise for years to come, even if it meant giving up Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, all key contributors on the previous two championship runs. The fact remained, that the Lakers lusted at the potential of forming their own superstar “Big Three” above all else.
Despite the impediments to forming their own “Big Three,” the Lakers shocked the NBA, by making a three-team trade to acquire Paul from the New Orleans Hornets, in exchange for Odom and Gasol (traded to Houston). With the trade in place, Paul was a Los Angeles Laker, and the thought of having the best point guard in the NBA to team with Bryant was exuberating. Paul and Bryant, together in one backcourt, a dream only Lakers fans could have as their reality. Not only would Paul be the best point guard to ever play alongside Bryant, but he was going to be the player Bryant left the reins to after retiring.
Hours later, the league was shaken up again, when the idea of the two superstars together became merely just a dream that would never come to fruition. Thanks in large part to several complaints from other team owners, the trade was vetoed by Commissioner David Stern, who just so happened to own the Hornets at the time, as the league searched for a buyer for the franchise. The whole idea coming out of the lockout was for a competitive balance amongst teams, particularly between bigger and smaller market teams. In a twist of irony, Paul would find his way to Los Angeles eventually, not after a re-submission of the trade by the Lakers, but rather through a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers. Commissioner Stern’s rationale behind the veto was poorly received, despite his attempts to persuade the public into believing that Paul landing in Los Angeles would not be good for the NBA. Rather, Paul landing with the Clippers would be fine, and the deal even received Stern’s seal of approval just a few short days later.
The Lakers’ lust in obtaining Paul was obvious, as he could take a majority of the ball handling responsibilities away from Bryant, allowing him to assume his true role as a shooting guard. He would have also put the team in an even better position to acquire Orlando Magic center Howard in exchange for Bynum. The Lakers and their fanbase still lust after Paul, and in a bit of irony, receive the opportunity to watch him play in Los Angeles now, as a member of the Clippers. During that time, Paul has made the Clippers a contender and more relevant than ever before.
The fact that Paul was traded to the Lakers still drives the team’s fans crazy. For a team that was so used to getting what they want or need in order to meet their championship aspirations, the Lakers had been handed a cold dose of reality. Getting back to the top was not going to be easy, but just because the Lakers didn’t land Paul, doesn’t mean they gave up on acquiring Howard. And with that, the next great center in Los Angeles Lakers history had arrived, or so most had thought.