Trade Retrospective: Chris Paul To The Clippers

With the Kevin Love blockbuster now official, time will tell which franchise got the better of the trade. The Wolves dealt away their star player for a number of intriguing pieces, and the Cavs netted a another star to pair alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, while the Sixers look to nab the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft. It’s always a risky proposition to deal a top-flight player away, as past deals have demonstrated. It’s with that in mind that I’ve been looking back at other blockbuster trades and how they have worked out for all involved.

So far I’ve examined the trades that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers; Deron Williams to the Nets; Kevin Garnett to the Celtics; Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks; and Shaquille O’Neal to the Heat. Next up is the 2011 deal that saw Chris Paul traded from the Pelicans to the Clippers.

On December 8, 2011, the Pelicans had agreed to a three-team trade that would send Paul to the Lakers; Pau Gasol to the Rockets; and Kevin Martin; Luis Scola; Lamar Odom; Goran Dragic; and a 2012 first-rounder (Royce White) that Houston had acquired from the Knicks, to New Orleans.

During this time the league was in charge of all decisions involving the Pelicans while they awaited new ownership to take control of the franchise. There were numerous reports that other team owners were angry about the trade due to their focus at achieving competitive balance between the larger and smaller market teams. The league allowing a pairing of Paul alongside Kobe Bryant was the antithesis of this goal.

An email that was sent to then Commissioner David Stern was published in The New York Times and Cleveland Plain Dealer, in which Cavs owner Dan Gilbert called the proposed deal “a travesty” and urged Stern to put the deal to a vote of “the 29 owners of the Pelicans,” referring to the rest of the league’s teams. Despite the backlash, the league claimed the deal was turned down for purely basketball reasons. “It’s not true that the owners killed the deal,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said at the time. “The deal was never discussed at the Board of Governors meeting and the league office declined to make the trade for basketball reasons.”

The second attempt at trading Paul to a team in Los Angeles went a bit smoother, and on December 15th, Paul was dealt to the Clippers. Let’s take a look at the players and assets involved:

It’s hard to compare the two deals and not think that the league and the Pelicans would have been better served with the initial trade to the Lakers, seeing how well Dragic has developed, and how Gordon’s injury woes and bloated contract haven’t quite worked out in New Orleans’ favor.

Once the trade was completed, Paul announced that he would opt in for the final year of his deal, thus ensuring he’d remain with the Clippers for at least two seasons. Paul would later sign a five-year, $107MM contract extension on July 10, 2013.

The Clippers’ records in the years leading up to the Paul trade were quite dismal.

  1. 2007/08: 23-59
  2. 2008/09: 19-63
  3. 2009/10: 29-53
  4. 2010/11: 32-50

Their records after the deal:

  1. 2011/12: 40-26 (Lost in second round of playoffs to the Spurs)
  2. 2012/13: 56-26 (Lost in first round to Grizzlies)
  3. 2013/14: 57-25 (Lost in second round to Thunder)

While they haven’t made it past the second round of the playoffs yet, there is a marked improvement in the franchise since Paul arrived. Let’s look at his production since arriving in Los Angeles.

  1. 2011/12: 19.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 9.1 APG, and 2.5 SPG. His slash line was .478/.371/.861.
  2. 2012/13: 16.9 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 9.7 APG, and 2.4 SPG. His slash line was .481/.328/.885.
  3. 2013/14: 19.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 10.7 APG, and 2.5 SPG. His slash line was .467/.368/.855.

While Paul isn’t solely responsible for the reversal of the Clippers’ fortunes, he’s been an integral part of the turnaround, and it’s hard to argue that Los Angeles didn’t win this deal easily, especially since Paul still has a number of seasons left in his prime before he begins to hit his decline phase.

The Pelicans definitely took a major step back with the trade. First let’s look at their records in the seasons prior to the trade.

  1. 2007/08: 56-26 (Lost in second round to the Spurs)
  2. 2008/09: 49-33 (Lost in first round to the Nuggets)
  3. 2009/10: 37-45
  4. 2010/11: 46-36 (Lost in first round to Lakers)

While they weren’t anyone’s definition of a Championship caliber team, here are their records after Paul was traded.

  1. 2011/12: 21-45
  2. 2012/13: 27-55
  3. 2013/14: 34-48

This trade would look a bit different if Eric Gordon had avoided injuries and continued the developmental progress he displayed during his first three seasons in the league, when he was considered a budding star. Here are his numbers with the Clippers.

  1. 2008/09: 16.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG, and 2.8 APG. His slash line was .456/.389/.854.
  2. 2009/10: 16.9 PPG, 2.6 RPG, and 3.0 APG. His slash line was .449/.371/.742.
  3. 2010/11: 22.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG, and 4.4 APG. His slash line was .450/.364/.825.

Gordon only managed nine games during his first season in New Orleans. It was revealed that he had a pre-existing knee injury that was aggravated during the first game of the season. The injury was originally believed to be just a bone bruise, but further examinations determined that Gordon had cartilage damage in his right knee, and he underwent surgery in February of 2012. Gordon returned toward the end of the season, but was noticeably slowed as he continued to recover.

He entered the summer of 2012 as a restricted free agent and on July 11, 2012, Gordon signed a four-year, $58MM offer sheet with the Suns. The Pelicans matched the offer, much to Gordon’s displeasure, and the Indianapolis native returned to New Orleans a touch disgruntled by the events. At the time Gordon said, “If (the Pelicans) were interested, there wouldn’t have been no tour, there wouldn’t have been nothing. There’s been no negotiations. I was right there in Indiana. I haven’t received no calls, to me personally, they’ve contacted my agent. As for now, I don’t know what’s going on. If the Pelicans match as of right now, I’d be disappointed.”

Since the surgery Gordon hasn’t been the same player. Here are his numbers since arriving in New Orleans:

  1. 2011/12: 20.6 PPG, 2.8 RPG, and 3.4 APG. His slash line was .450/.250/.754.
  2. 2012/13: 17.0 PPG, 1.8 RPG, and 3.3 APG. His slash line was .402/.324/.842.
  3. 2013/14: 15.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG, and 3.3 A{G. His slash line was .436/.391/.785.

The injury to Gordon wasn’t something that could be predicted, but it’s interesting to look at the numbers of the players New Orleans could have gotten if the first trade went through.

Here are Kevin Martin‘s stats during the same span:

  1. 2011/12: 17.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, and 2.8 APG. His slash line was .413/.347/.894.
  2. 2012/13: 14.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG, and 1.4 APG. His slash line was .450/.426/.890.
  3. 2013/14: 19.1 PPG, 3.0 RPG, and 1.8 APG. His slash line was .430/.387/.891.

Martin’s numbers are comparable to Gordon’s, and he’s currently signed to a four-year, $28MM contract, which is significantly less than Gordon’s deal. To compound the disparity, let’s look at Goran Dragic‘s numbers during the same span.

  1. 2011/12: 11.7 PPG, 2.5 RPG, and 5.3 APG. His slash line was .462/.337/.805.
  2. 2012/13: 14.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, and 7.4 APG. His slash line was .443/.319/.748.
  3. 2013/14: 20.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG, and 5.9 APG. His slash line was .505/.408/.760.

Dragic is currently in the middle of a four-year, $30MM deal he signed as a restricted free agent back in 2012. If you do the math, the Pelicans could have had both Martin and Dragic for the same price they are paying the oft-injured Gordon now.

Chris Kaman only played for one season in New Orleans, averaging 13.1 PPG, 7.7 RPG, and 1.6 BPG. He would then sign with the Mavericks in the offseason for one year and $8MM.

Al-Farouq Aminu lasted three seasons in New Orleans before leaving this summer to also sign with Dallas as a free agent on a two-year, $2.1MM deal. Aminu’s numbers with the Pelicans were:

  1. 2011/12: 6.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, and 1.0 APG. His slash line was .411/.277/.754.
  2. 2012/13: 7.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG, and 1.4 APG. His slash line was .475/.211/.737.
  3. 2013/14: 7.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG, and 1.4 APG. His slash line was .474/.271/.664.

In keeping with the theme of “what could have been,” here are Luis Scola‘s numbers during the same stretch:

  1. 2011/12: 15.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, and 2.1 APG. His slash line was .491/.000/.773.
  2. 2012/13: 12.8 PPG, 6.6 RPG, and 2.2 APG. His slash line was .472/.188/.787.
  3. 2013/14: 7.6 PPG, 4.8 RPG, and 1.0 APG. His slash line was .470/.143/.728.

The polite way to describe Austin Rivers‘ career thus far would be to say he’s been a disappointment, as he hasn’t lived up to having been a lottery pick. Rivers was a highly touted freshman when he entered college for his lone season at Duke, but many draft experts correctly predicted that he should have remained in school for at least one more season. Rivers’ numbers in the NBA thus far are:

  1. 2012/13: 6.2 PPG, 1.8 RPG, and 2.1 APG. His slash line was .372/.326/.546.
  2. 2013/14: 7.7 PPG, 1.9 RPG, and 2.3 APG. His slash line was .405/.364/.636.

Rivers is only 22 years old, and he could still develop into a serviceable rotation player, but from what he’s shown on the court thus far, it is extremely unlikely he’ll justify being selected in the lottery, even in a draft as weak as 2012’s.

The results of this trade are a prime example of how it is almost impossible to get equal value when trading away a star player. Granted, if Gordon had not have been injured and he continued to be a 20+ PPG scorer, the deal would look a lot more favorable for New Orleans.

The only benefit the franchise received from the trade was losing enough games during the 2011/12 season to secure the No. 1 overall pick they used to select Anthony Davis, who has the potential to become a top-five player in the league over the next few seasons. If Paul had remained on the roster it isn’t likely they would have been in that draft position, and Paul would have almost assuredly left as a free agent as soon as he was able.

It’s hard to predict what the Pelicans’ record would have been had the league not nixed the original trade. But looking at the transactions with hindsight, the franchise would have received better value with the original deal. The Suns should also send yearly thank-you cards to the Pelicans for matching their offer sheet to Gordon.

As for the Clippers, they clearly got the best player in the trade, and though it hasn’t resulted in a trip to the Conference Finals and beyond thus far, I’d be willing to bet they would make this deal 100 times over. This transaction is another shining example of the worth of a superstar in today’s NBA.

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