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Chris Paul trade saga provides Major League Soccer insights

It's almost impossible to have escaped the saga of the Chris Paul trade(s) in the NBA but just in case you have, here are a couple of need-to-know facts.

  • Ownership of the New Orleans Hornets (Chris Paul's now former team) was sold to the NBA back in December 2010
  • Every owner in the NBA owns 1/29th of the Hornets but does not have any direct say in day-to-day operations
  • NBA commissioner David Stern had given full authority to Hornets General Manager Dell Demps to make whatever player moves he felt were in the team's best interest
  • The Hornets best player and NBA superstar Chris Paul was under contract for only one more season
  • Chris Paul recently told the Hornets he didn't want to sign with them after this season and would like to be traded
  • Rather than see the Hornets get nothing when Paul walks this summer, GM Demps worked out a three-way trade less than two weeks ago that would have shipped Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers and had a couple of players from the Lakers and the Houston Rockets come to the Hornets.
  • In just a couple of hours after the trade, NBA commissioner David Stern blocked it with the league citing 'basketball reasons'
  • The trade was resubmitted but then the Lakers backed out. A couple of days later, Chris Paul was finally traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in a deal approved by the NBA

For deeper analysis from a NBA perspective, Bomani Jones and Tom Ziller each have great pieces. If you are a real glutton for information and unfolding events, check out the 80+ or so updates on the story stream. When you are ready, I'll be after the break talking Major League Soccer.

I'm not a big fan of the way MLS handles things like allocation money, the allocation order for returning USMNT players, and the total secrecy on player contract details (length, wages, options, etc.). However, the way the NBA has handled the New Orleans Hornets situation is a travesty. Adrian Wojnarowski reported that in addition to everything else, the league made the trade that saw Chris Paul go to the Clippers, not Demps and the Hornets. As Vishnu Parasuraman shrewdly points out, if there were clear guidelines for how much salary the Hornets could add, how much player movement was too much, or any other basic principles, they were ignored and they still are being ignored if further league interference continues to happen.

You could joke that a couple of new MLS rules or adjustments in the last decade were done for 'LA Galaxy soccer reasons' but MLS commissioner Don Garber comes away smelling like roses in comparison to David Stern right about now. Tampa Bay Mutiny and the Miami Fusion were struggling as MLS franchises at the turn of the millennium just as the Hornets are now. Garber decided to contract the two teams despite the fact that he would be dropping the league down to 10 clubs and abandoning the 4th most populous state in the union. Stern's NBA owned the Hornets during a labor dispute. Contracting the Hornets and possibly another organization could have been worked into the new NBA collective bargaining agreement negotiations. It wasn't even seriously discussed despite the fact that talent disparity AND talent concentration are plaguing the NBA.

There are only about 15-20 players that have the talent to lead a team to a NBA Championship over the grueling 100 plus games in the season+playoffs. Chris Paul is one of those rare players but those top 15-20 players are increasingly working their way into joining the same teams. See the Miami Heat with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh for example. No top player wanted to sign with the Hornets in free agency. The Hornets didn't have enough to trade for one of the top talents (and now we can assume the NBA league office didn't want such a trade to happen anyway) so Paul was in no man's land.

Even if the Hornets are bought tomorrow and everything goes back to normal, the team would face the same bleak path the Chicago Bulls had to suffer through in the past decade. Chicago missed the playoffs six years in a row between 1998-2004 before finally making it back in 2005. They didn't actually win a playoff series until 2007. The year after that the wheels came off the bus and what was a promising group of players majorly regressed. Finally the Bulls famously won the first pick in the NBA draft despite having just a 1.7% chance in the draft lottery. Their prize was hometown hero Derrick Rose. It was perfect for the organization... perhaps even a little too perfect. Derrick Rose just happened to be projected to be one of those 15-20 players that can turn around a franchise. He just happened to be going to his hometown team that just happened to be the 4th largest market in North America and just happened to have been irrelevant in the NBA for over a decade. All this over 1.7% odds? Well Google 'NBA draft conspiracies' and then google 'Sports League X draft conspiracies' and you'll see the differences. If you are a Bulls fan like me you'll just tell everyone to shut up while you enjoy the D-Rose show.

The NBA conspiracy theorists demand to be heard though. They have added this latest chapter to their quiver. No doubt the 'Chris Paul trade arrow' will come out in their next attack. I think they would be off-base though because vetoing the Chris Paul trade to the Lakers isn't tin-foil territory. It's simple economics.

Going back to Parasuraman's article, the Hornets would have added a significant amount of salary in the original Chris Paul to the Lakers trade. That means that all the other NBA owners that now own the Hornets would have to pay more money to operate the team. Then there was the fact that the one of basketball's most storied franchises in the Los Angeles Lakers was going to be able to smoothly transition from superstar Kobe Byrant to superstar Chris Paul. It was just too much. The small owners revolted and they won.

This is where I finally get us back to soccer. Major League Soccer owns each and every MLS team. Most of you who happen to read this blog every once in awhile already know this. However, I find few of the people I talk to think about what will happen when Major League Soccer is ready to move past this single entity stage. More precisely it is the question of what will happen when teams like the LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, and Seattle Sounders decide they have outgrown their training wheels. After all, the Galaxy and Red Bulls have started travelling on money-making trips in a similar fashion to Manchester United. Seattle home games outdrew the second most attended team in MLS (LA Galaxy) and any combination of the lower half of the league. That's without getting into the fact they could sell more tickets if they removed some of the gameday tarps they currently put in place to cover seats at CenturyLink Field.

Perhaps you already saw the recently released Sports Business Journal's Top 50 Most Influential People in Sports but take another look anyway. Number 1 is NBC's President & CEO Steve Burke. His description mentions his network's new deal with MLS. Number 8 is New England Revolution investor/operator Roger Kraft and Number 11 is Los Angeles Galaxy investor/operator Tim Leiweke. The major MLS athletic apparel supporter Adidas has its Chairman & CEO Herbert Hainer weighing in at No. 32. Microsoft co-founder/Seattle Sounders co-investor Paul Allen and Red Bull energy drink/New York Red Bulls investor/operator are not on the list but both have what is colloquially referred to as 'deep pockets'. When MLS Commissioner Don Garber checks-in on the list at No. 30, it is in great part due to the fact these other individuals stand behind him. MLS's continued success will rely on these individuals continuing to believe that Don Garber leads them by standing in front instead of believing he and the league stand in front and in the way of greater revenues. The owners could even be on board with league policy but NBC and Adidas have every incentive to encourage the league to bring in more stars. More stars mean more ad revenue for NBC and more marketability and sales for Adidas.

I don't bring this up to say I think we are close to that point but rather that MLS fans should look at the New Orleans Hornets as a warning sign for a MLS future that should never come to be. If and when Major League Soccer reaches the point where the teams' ownership comes out from the league umbrella (and with its success and deep pockets I believe it's when), it needs to be done all or nothing. We can't have a situation where half the teams are owned individually and the other half of the teams are owned and operated by the league. The New Orleans Hornets situation in the NBA shows even having a temporary situation where one team is under a different level of league supervision than any other team is distasteful and opens the door to countless quandaries.

It irritates me that the league signs someone like Lee Nguyen to a contract and then his team is figured out in a lottery. It irritates me that MLS forces returning USMNT team players to go through an annual allocation order when it's open market for international players. It irritates me that there are no rules for Canadian Men's National Team players despite the fact the league is now 16% Canadian teams. It irritates me that MLS guards information on how long most of the players on my favorite team are even going to be around. I'm irritated that I need to wrap it up here and I have more things to list, some which I'm simply forgetting. However, after seeing how the 66 year-old NBA juggernaut is handling itself, I'm willing to cut the 16 year-old MLS a little more slack and give its peculiar procedures a little more respect. It is tough to go through the growing pains of a young league. Let's make sure MLS takes advantage of the fact we can learn much from the mistakes of the other leagues around us.