Everyone is talking about the Chris Paul (non) trade today, and what am I if not a follower? But here you’ll get two sides to the argument: the basketball side and the ‘value to the league’ side.
First we have to start with some roster assumptions. This is tough since there’s (obviously) still a lot of changes happening, but we’ll view this trade in a vacuum to at least get a sense of where things stand. Let’s start with Houston. As it stands they are probably starting Thabeet, Scola, Budinger, Martin, and Lowry. If the trade had gone through (or goes through in the future), they would lose Scola, Martin, and Lowry’s back-up, Goran Dragic (along with a draft pick). But they would gain Pau Gasol. In that case, the line-up would look more like Thabeet, Gasol, Budinger, Courtney Lee, and Lowry, with Jonny Flynn backing up Lowry.
How would this affect the Rockets? The changes are Scola for Gasol, Lee for Martin, and Dragic for Flynn. We can use a few measures to decide how good each player is. Scola, for example, is a 0 (average) according to RAPM, .11 (just above average of .1) according to Win Shares, .089 (just below average of .1) according to Wins Produced, and 18.4 (above the average of 15) according to PER. His replacement, Pau Gasol, is a 2.1/.232/.258/23.3. So the four metrics here roughly agree that while Scola was average last year, Gasol is a very strong player. If they played the same number of minutes Gasol would earn over twice as many wins, but Gasol actually played more than Scola last year. So the Rockets could expect to move from, perhaps, 5 wins to something more like 15. Courtney Lee is a -1/.076/.086/12.63, so below average, while Kevin Martin is a -1.3/.175/.135/21.46. So Lee is below average while Martin is above (with the disagreement of RAPM). Let’s pencil that in as a change from 5 wins to 3. Finally Dragic is a -2.6/.157/.032/13.21 while Flynn is a -3.8/-.064/-.094/7.13. So Dragic is probably bad but Flynn is atrocious. We’ll call it a move from half a win to -2 wins. So overall the Rockets sent out 5+5+.5 = 10.5 wins and brought in 15+3+-2 = 16 wins. I would say they came out ahead, barring any big consequences of losing the draft pick.
Now let’s look at the Lakers. They sent out Gasol, who we already covered as being worth about 15 wins. They also sent out Lamar Odom, who’s a 3.2/.184/.26/19.5. So he’s pretty good; let’s say 12 wins. The Lakers would get back Chris Paul, who’s a 6/.232/.358/23.76. He’s obviously the star of the deal here almost regardless of your metric of choice (Win Shares says Gasol is just as good). The Lakers would go from Gasol and Odom at power forward (and Odom a bit at SF) to Derrick Caracter and probably a little more Matt Barnes but they would sit Steve Blake and Derek Fisher. Caracter is a -3.6/.057/-.115/10.09, but he was a rookie who didn’t get a lot of time, so he’s likely to improve. Barnes is a -.5/.142/.181/14.63. So there’s a little disagreement here; let’s split the difference and say he’s barely above average. Fisher is 1/.078/-.011/8.94 and Blake is .4/.055/.024/7.5, so they are both below average. Let’s say that Barnes plays an extra 300 minutes to make up for Odom; that would be worth an extra win compared to last year. Let’s say Caracter ends up being only mildly terrible. If he plays 3000 minutes (and he’ll have to, because the Laker front court is him and Bynum), he would gain the Lakers about 3 wins over last year. And if Fisher and Blake downgrade from 3900 minutes to about 1000 with Fisher still getting 60%, it would cost the Lakers about 3 wins. So let’s look at the shuffle: Caracter and Barnes’ extra time gains the Lakers about 4 wins while Fisher and Blake’s reduced time costs them about 3, so they come out 1 ahead. They ship out Gasol and Odom, which is about 27 wins, and bring in Paul, which is about 20 wins. Overall the Lakers lose about 6 wins.
Finally we get to the Hornets. They are losing Paul but gaining Scola, Martin, and Dragic. The Hornets barely have a team on their current roster, but they would putatively move from starting Paul to starting either Jarrett Jack or Dragic, probably starting Scola and Odom over David Andersen and Quincy Pondexter, and Martin over Ariza. We’ve already said that Dragic is bad; Jack is a -1.9/.082/.054/14.2. So he’s also below average but better than Dragic. Let’s say they combine for about 3 wins in the time that Paul would have played. Andersen is a 0/.012/-.062/10.93 and Pondexter is a -2.5/.06/-.005/8.51, so both are fairly bad. Let’s say that had they both been forced to start and play about 2500 minutes they would have been worth about a win. Finally Trevor Ariza is a -1.2/.062/.076/11.38, so he’s below average. He was worth about 4 wins last year; let’s say with reduced minutes he’s worth 1, so the Hornets lose a win. Kevin Martin was worth about 7. So overall the Hornets send out 20 wins in Chris Paul but bring in 3 wins worth of Dragic/Jack; they ‘send out’ a win worth of what would have been Andersen and Pondexter but gain 17 wins of Odom and Scola, and they send out a win of Ariza’s production but gain 7 from Martin. Overall the Hornets lose 22 wins but gain 27 for a total gain of 5 wins.
So here’s the summary: the Rockets and Hornets gain about 5 wins while the Lakers lose about 6. These are obviously all rough estimates. One comment I’ve seen a number of places is that the Lakers would then follow up by getting Dwight Howard, and this would make up for any losses in the Paul trade. I’m with Bill Simmons on this one though; there’s no way the Lakers can get Howard once they’ve traded Odom and Gasol. Orlando won’t take just Bynum; even if you think he’s as good as Howard (which he isn’t), you can’t count on him to play as many minutes. So then the Lakers need to throw in some small forwards, which are their only other assets, and then the Lakers have no one left. Their three big positions would consist of Dwight, Caracter, and maybe Matt Barnes? Maybe just Luke Walton? And that assumes that Orlando really wants Metta World Peace/Ron Artest. I don’t see it.
So that covers the ‘basketball reasons’. There’s nothing unfair on the face of this trade; the Lakers come out a little behind, but they wanted to make the trade, and the Hornets and Rockets should benefit. More lopsided trades have certainly happened in the past. Now let’s talk about ‘league reasons’. The league wants to make money (duh). The Wages of Wins shows a split in how teams make money: teams make money at home by being good while teams make money on the road by having superstars. Put another way, no one is going to Pistons games this year unless someone famous is visiting. And obviously big market teams bring in more money when they’re good since they charge more for tickets. So generally speaking you want good players on the big market teams. To that end, this trade was bad for the league because the Lakers would be worse. But not dramatically so; the projected five game loss moves them from 57 wins last year (and their point differential says they should have been a little higher) to 52. 52 wins is still good for the playoffs and if they were fortunate enough to end up closer to 55 they would likely host the first round. Since the Hornets and Rockets get better, they would draw more tickets at home, although less valuable tickets. So I think it’s a wash overall. On the other hand, the only ‘superstar’ in this trade was Chris Paul. Gasol might be, but all the other guys, while good players, are not superstars. So the Lakers add a superstar, making them even more attractive on the road. The Hornets lose one while the Rockets gain a sort-of superstar. Essentially the Lakers lost any home gate for when Chris Paul came to town, but the Hornets will gain it back whenever he returns. And the same story for Gasol. An argument I saw on Sportscenter this morning was that the Hornets become less valuable without Paul on the roster. But if the team wins more they will be more valuable, and surely anyone who was going to buy the team knows that Paul was leaving at the end of the year anyway. The only argument could be that a potential owner would be put off because he couldn’t be the one to trade Chris Paul, which seems kind of silly to me. I don’t see any big benefit to anyone here by keeping Paul in New Orleans.
So to sum up: the Lakers dodging losing a few wins, but the Rockets and Hornets missed out on getting some extra wins. The Lakers would have had an extra superstar, which would make them more attractive on the road, but they’re already a pretty big draw I have to assume. They might have lost a few home ticket sales, but I doubt it because they would still be good and still be the Lakers. The Rockets would have sold more home tickets and potentially been a bigger road draw with Gasol. The Hornets would have sold more home tickets as well once they were winning more but been a worse road draw without Paul. And if I were going to buy the Hornets, I would want to make sure I had the best team available. With Paul leaving anyway, this sure looks like a pretty good trade to me; if I owned the team I don’t know if I could do a whole lot better.
I don’t see any reason, on the court or off it, that this trade shouldn’t have gone through. Except maybe because Chris Paul isn’t going to Detroit.