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What if the Chris Paul trade wasn’t blocked

In a move that still drives Lakers’ fans crazy, David Stern and the NBA blocked the Purple and Gold from landing Chris Paul. But what if that trade had gone through?

Pete Rogers Illustrations

Less than 10 years ago, on December 8, 2011, the New Orleans Hornets agreed to send Chris Paul to Los Angeles on a three-team trade. To the Purple and Gold part of Los Angeles, that was. The Hornets would be sending Paul to the Lakers in exchange for three Rockets (Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, and Goran Dragic) along with a Laker (Lamar Odom). The Lakers themselves would be sending Pau Gasol to Houston in the six-player trade (which also included a draft pick).

The late David Stern, commissioner of the NBA back then, vetoed that trade. The whole NBA owned the Hornets in 2011, with the 29 other owners of teams acting as their shareholders. That put everybody against the Lakers acquiring Chris Paul and forming a mega-tandem with Kobe Bryant. Due to “basketball reasons” the trade went to the trash can and six days later the Hornets found another partner—also in Los Angeles—to send Paul packing, making the point guard a Clipper.

I remember the two days those trades happen like yesterday. What I don’t remember—mostly because, well, never happened—is what the hell those Lakers would have done with Prime Paul playing alongside Kobe during the last years of great play of the latter, and how the NBA could have changed in the 2010s. That’s why I needed answers, and why I went looking for them.

The Setup

While other scenarios I’ve written about earlier were a little bit easier to put a starting date on, this one differs a bit. The 2011-12 season was shortened due to a lockout regarding the signing of a new CBA and it started on December 25. By that time, the Chris Paul trade had already been completed and therefore I considered it an “offseason” trade hailing from the summer of 2011. That’s why I’m positioning myself at the start of the 2011-12 season, and flipping the actual Chris Paul trade (to the Clippers) for the one that would have sent him to the Lakers.

The game I’m using to simulate this universe (remember, the free-to-play BasketballGM) doesn’t know about the lockout, so the season would go on with the full 82-game schedule. As if the Clippers needed a harder punch in the gut in this alternate universe...

For those who have forgotten what was going on almost 10 years ago, here is how the Lakers, Rockets, and Hornets (Pelicans from now on) rosters looked like at the start of the 2011-12 season, with the alternate trade already completed.

While the Pelicans absolutely threw the season away by trading Paul (they would land Anthony Davis in real life with the no. 1 pick) they would have had a rather nice foundation with a young Goran Dragic in town, along with Trevor Ariza and another vet in Kevin Martin to win them some games. Scola and Odom were mostly cooked by then, but they could help to build chemistry there.

The Rockets would have lost big-time pieces here in Dragic, Martin, and Scola to only add Pau Gasol. Gasol was 32 years old already, mind you, so the move was quite short-sighted and more than anything geared toward salary-dumping facing the 2012 free agency, which would include Dwight Howard hitting the market.

As for the Lakers, they would have paired Paul with an already-aging Kobe looking a partner in crime to attack the Playoffs for a couple of times before calling it quits, as Gasol was already past his prime. Andrew Bynum had yet to bust out in 2012, and Metta World Peace was another vet squeezing his last drops of talent back then. The Lakers were also looking at Howard come the summer, trying to form their own big-three a la Boston years earlier.

Year One: Chris Paul demolishes the NBA under Hollywood’s lights

The Lakers landed Chris Paul, and Chris Paul delivered. Paul, in his first year in Hollywood, played the full 82 games, started each and every one of them, and averaged 21.5 PPG, 10.8 APG, 3.6 RPG, and 3.3 SPG against only two turnovers per. Those numbers, simply put, were nuts nuts. For those who love advanced metrics, here they are: 26.7 PER and 18.4 Win Shares on the year.

Paul finished the season 10th in points per game, led the league (tied with Derrick Rose) in assists per game, had the 5th-best free throw percentage, led the league in steals per game, was second in minutes per game (38.5 MPG), finished third in PER (behind Lebron James and Kevin Love), and ended second in Win Shares only behind James (25.4 WS). Say what you want, but the Lakers seemed to have hit the nail in the head for real here.

Mere months into his Laker tenure, Paul was already an All-Star MVP and first-teamer in both the All-League and All-Defensive squads. No slouch, indeed.

Sadly for the Lakers, though, the season didn’t finish as they would have liked. Your brain is not playing tricks on you. Those are the Pelicans (Paul’s ex-team) with the no. 2 seed over the Lakers in the Western picture. They couldn’t beat a much worse Grizzlies team in the first round but they out-played the Lake Show in the regular season after completing the trade and made it to the postseason. Quite an achievement in which Kevin Martin was an absolutely unexpected beast (21.7 PER) with Jarrett Jack (19.3)) slotting second in PER for the team and with other three players hitting 17+ (Goran Dragic, Trevor Ariza, and Carl Landry).

Facing the Spurs in the WCF the Lakers couldn’t get past a single win in a pretty disappointing end to their season. A banged-up Tim Duncan (only played 58 games during the regular season) happened to be rested and ready for the postseason run and that made things tough for those Lakers. Kobe (70 regular-season games) and Bynum (74) had lost a handful of games during the season too, and they weren’t in peak shape by the time the WCF rolled around. The Spurs murdered the Lakers in just five games and went on to conquer the NBA with a title that gave Kawhi a very deserved Finals MVP after another five-game series win against the Hawks. Oh, and in case you have not paid attention to it, those were a no. 8 seed vs no. 6 seed Finals. Too much for the Thunder, Lakers, Heat, and Bulls of yesteryear.

In the draft, with New Orleans having finished the prior year with a no. 2 playoff seed, the Pels had to be happy selecting Austin Rivers with the 26th overall pick. Houston missed the playoffs and selected Terrence Jones 10th-overall. Bradley Beal went first-overall to Dallas while Boston snatched Anthony Davis second-overall. Toronto closed the top-three drafting Mo Harkless and passing on the likes of Andre Drummond (4th), Damian Lillard (6th), and Khris Middleton (17th).

From 2013 to 2020: No gold for Kobe, A chip for Paul

After a good-not-great 2012 season, the Lakers made it back to the playoffs in 2013 and 2014 but they couldn’t get past the second round in the best of cases (lost to Minny in 2013, fell to San Antonio in 2014). After that, the Lakers entered an absolutely nightmarish scenario marked by Kobe’s decline (he started to drop his numbers in 2015) and a set of bad decisions in free agency (LA’s main way of acquiring assets) that led to back-to-back years out of the postseason with Chris Paul and Bryant aging and starting to lose faith in accomplishing anything worth noting for the Lakers.

After starting just 28 games in 2016 and missing the playoffs, Kobe announced his farewell-season would take place in 2017, when he would go on to play 72 games but all of them off the bench as a mere role player (13.1 MPG, 6.4 PPG). He had started only 28 games the year before, so it kinda made sense. Chris Paul had been absolutely incredible leading up to the 2017 season (starting in 2012 his career-PER numbers read 26.7, 28.5, 26, 25.7, and 21.8) and had carried the team to as many wins as possible, only he alone wasn’t enough to make it far or even reach the playoffs.

Even with that, Paul’s list of accolades by the end of his career in 2023 would be absolutely ridiculous, with most of his exploits coming in the 2012-2016 span. That, sadly for Kobe, wouldn’t include the title he and the Lakers were hoping for when they traded for Paul back in the winter of 2011.

Kobe’s last dance finished with a WCF matchup between the Lakers and... the Spurs. Once again, San Antonio dispatched the Kevin Love/CP3-led Lakers quickly with a resounding 4-1 series win in which Brandon Jennings was absolutely devastating averaging 34-11-3 for the Spurs playing along John Wall, Russell Westbrook, and Kawhi Leonard. Talk about small ball. And as it was the case back in 2012, the Spurs would once again lift the Larry OB slashing Toronto 4-0 in a very clean Finals weep.

With Kobe already filming movies and watching the Lake Show from the crowd—and after a couple of years, the Lakers finally seemed primed to do something big. The year was 2019 and the good old Lakers looked nothing like the revamped baby-squad that was about to enter the new decade with a ring in its players’ fingers.

Chris Paul took Kobe’s leader-banner, made it all his, and kept leading the Lakers as the go-to player and clear figure of the Lake Show. The thing was, though, that the Lakers now had a bunch of truly good supporting players around Paul, not like in years past. Los Angeles had attracted an impossibly great big man in Nikola Jokic a year before, drafted a do-it-all man in 2016 when they picked Dario Saric 8th-overall, and traded for no less than James Harden (a seven-time All-Star guy...) in 2017 getting rid of Kevin Love in the deal.

It wasn’t a surprise to find the 2019 Lakers dominating the league from start to finish. They had the best regular-season record league-wide. They beat New Orleans in the first round, had it way to easy against the Wolves in the second round, found a way around Memphis in the WCF, and shredded Detroit to pieces in the Finals to get that ever-promised chip finally to Hollywood. Although the Pistons reached the Finals with the second-best record in the NBA and had already won the title in 2018 they were true overachievers. They featured four starters under 28 years of age, were led by 26-year-old Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and the second-best player was a 24-year-old Zach LaVine. The Young Pistons were a sensation, indeed.

After winning the championship in 2019 the Lakers never missed the playoffs again until Paul run out of years in his contract with Los Angeles, making it to the second round a couple of times in the 2020s decade but not further.

Trying to get out of the spotlight, Paul signed a one-year deal with Cleveland for the 2021 season. Out of the spotlight, that is, because Cleveland had not made the playoffs since the 2010 season (LeBron’s last in town) and the Cavs would go on to finish the year with a horrific 10-72 record. Paul played 60 games, started all of them, and had some fun during his last merry-go-round before retiring for good with a ring in his middle finger and a call from the Hall of Fame waiting to happen.

What About New Orleans, Houston... and the Clippers?

Just as a quick aside here for those interested in knowing how the Pelicans and the Rockets (and the Clippers) fared while Paul was riding the Lakers.

As you know, the Pels had a great 2012 season and completely missed on Anthony Davis. In fact, trading Paul helped New Orleans made the playoffs three consecutive years from 2012 to 2014 before posting two seasons of 20 and 18 wins after that. The Pels made it back to the playoffs from 2019 to 2021, and even reached the WCF in 2021 with a 56-26 record, but never won even a conference title in Paul’s time out of New Orleans. These days, the Pelicans have a starting five led by Jarrett Allen (free agent signing) and Svi Mykhailiuk (31st-overall draft pick) and are a very young time trying to get back to the postseason.

The Houston Rockets had it rough in the beginning, missing the playoffs two consecutive seasons in 2012 and 2013. Gasol didn’t help that much and he was out of Houston by the time the 2014 season started, leaving Kyle Lowry as the leader of a team that had to go to the market to improve its roster with the additions of Michael Beasley and Brandon Knight. Since the trade, Houston made the playoffs seven times and reached its peak in the 2020 season when they got into a Finals matchup against... the Knicks! And the Knicks clearly out-played them by winning the chip with a resounding 4-1 outcome led by an impossible-to-stop tandem made of Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Although it seems impossible, the Rockets are hanging on the last seasons of a 36-year-old LeBron James (he signed with Houston in 2018 still hoping to win his first ring) and a very nice 2016 draft pick: no. 19 Dragan Bender.

Although the Clippers aren’t that much into this alternate universe—they would have never entered the picture with Chris Paul already traded to the Lakers before they became a thing in this whole drama—it is worth taking a look at what they did without adding Paul to their roster. And the thing is, they reached glory way sooner than their neighbors. It only took the Clippers two years to win a championship in 2013 sweeping the Knicks 4-0 in the Finals. The fact that LA didn’t land them Paul allowed them to retain Eric Gordon—who would go on to become a Hall of Famer—and also to sign Sebastian Telfair and Marc Gasol as free agents in 2012. The core of Gordon, Gasol, and Blake Griffin (all of them having 20+ PERs on the year) carried the Clippers to the championship in what never became Lob City as we know it in our world. LA went to the WCF again in 2015 (they lost 4-1 to the Spurs), but they never went past that point and even missed the playoffs for seven consecutive years spanning from 2018 to 2024, later making them again in 2025.

Other quick bits: Pau Gasol retired in 2017 after making the All-Star in 2012 and 2014 (he also has a son, Pau Gasol Jr., playing for the Thunder); Dwight Howard flipped the bird to all of his pursuers and re-signed with the Magic in the summer of 2012; Giannis was drafted 3rd but Michael Carter-Williams is clearly better than him; Wiggins was still 1st in 2014 but the real deal was Jabari Parker; Jamal Murray is the gem of the 2016 draft; LeBron won the MVP from 2012 to 2015, and Anthony Davis from 2016 to 2018.

Hall of Famers named during the Sim: Kobe Bryant (1996-2017), Dirk Nowitzki (1998-2018), Chris Paul (2005-2023), Eric Gordon (2008-2023), Ryan Anderson (2008-2024), LeBron James (2003-2024), James Harden (2009-2025), Kevin Love (2008-2025).