Just as the NBA was tidying up some paperwork to settle the months-long lockout that had cut 16 games off the 2011-12 season, Dell Demps, Daryl Morey, and Mitch Kupchak were getting into deep conversations over Chris Paul. The Rockets wanted Chris Paul originally, but after being assured that Chris Paul wanted nothing to do with the Rockets, they backed off and set their sights on facilitating a deal and landing another player in Houston.
Without a deal, their roster would be ill-equipped to make a run for the playoffs with no star player, no center, and no proven veterans outside of Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, and Kyle Lowry. But hope sprung anew. On December 8th, the Rockets, Hornets, and Lakers agreed to a deal that would send Pau Gasol to Houston, Chris Paul to Los Angeles, and Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, and Lamar Odom to New Orleans.
For the Rockets, it was a tough pill to swallow knowing that they could have potentially facilitated the start of another Lakers dynasty, but the reward was enormous. He had just come off of a season where he shot 53% from the field and averaged 19 and 10, and fit perfectly in the middle as the All-Star center the Rockets had been looking for.
In addition, the deal cleared enough cap room to sign Nene, another All-Star big man that would later confirm that he was headed to Houston if the deal had been consummated. Given Kyle Lowry's exceptional previous season, Courtney Lee and Chase Budinger's youth and promise, and the inability of most teams to matchup with two true big man, and there was a lot of hope that the Rockets had rebuilt themselves into a contender in one fell swoop.
And then came the vicious hammer of David Stern. At the time, the NBA owned the Hornets in what was a giant mess of conflict of interest, and Stern rejected the deal acting as the owner of the team. He claimed that such a deal would decrease the Hornets' value in sale, and thus he didn't want to go through with it. Anybody with a mind would tell you that's a load of crap.
That night, as details began to emerge about the deal, NBA owners were furious. On the first day of a new CBA that would curb the ability of star players to build super teams in big markets, the league's top point guard would leave a tiny market for Los Angeles? Mark Cuban, Dan Gilbert, and others were livid, and pushed for the Hornets to pull the plug on the deal.
In the end, as he always seems to do, David Stern got his way. The deal was off, and though there were attempts to revive it in different forms a number of times, those never got off the ground. Chris Paul would stay a Hornet and Pau Gasol would stay a Laker.
The response was swift and uncompromising from fans of the Rockets. As Bane would say, "there is no true despair without hope," and that glimmer of hope of a contender jarred the fans from a somewhat hopeless situation. Fans were resigned to a disappointing season before it began, but with the glimmer of hope of contention, the mediocrity became all the more painful.
A little more than a year and a half later, that trade veto so many were against may have been the best thing to have happened to the Rockets in a decade. Pau Gasol and Nene regressed badly over the last two seasons, and that team that many thought could contend would be miles behind the James Harden and Dwight Howard-led attack the Rockets will run out on opening night in 2013.
We will always still hate David Stern, but this time, he helped the Rockets build a contender that never could have been with Pau Gasol in the fold.