(Reuters) - A new National Basketball Association era began in controversy as a blockbuster three-way trade that would have sent New Orleans Hornets All-Star guard Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers was vetoed by NBA Commissioner David Stern.
After team owners and players ratified a 10-year labor deal Thursday that ended a five-month lockout, word circulated that New Orleans agreed to deal Paul, the outstanding point guard who could be a free agent next summer.
But Stern nixed the trade on the basis of "basketball reasons" in acting as steward of the Hornets franchise, which is owned by the NBA after buying the team from the financially troubled previous owner.
"All decisions are made on the basis of what is in the best interests of the Hornets," Stern said in a statement issued on Friday.
"In the case of the trade proposal that was made to the Hornets for Chris Paul, we decided, free from the influence of other NBA owners, that the team was better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade."
Stern was addressing reaction to his veto in media reports claiming he was pressured by small-market owners dismayed to see Paul land on a big-market Lakers team over concerns about competitive balance in the league.
Under the proposed deal, Paul was to go the Lakers, with New Orleans getting Lamar Odom from Los Angeles and Houston's Goran Dragic, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and a 2012 first-round draft pick. Houston was to get Lakers All-Star forward Pau Gasol.
The deal was negotiated by Hornets general manager Dell Demps, who was trying to bring back talent to the New Orleans club, which could lose Paul to free agency without compensation.
The bang and fizzle surrounding Paul's status marked the opening bell of an expected flurry of activity Friday as NBA teams started their training camps and free agents were allowed to sign with teams.
Preparations for the shortened 66-game season were being hurried up to get the 2011-12 campaign underway for a start on Christmas Day.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)