For a gag gift a couple weeks back, one of my friends gave me an oversized Paul Pierce figurine (one that looks a lot more like Kris Joseph than Pierce, but I digress) and quipped, "Something to remember him by." During a Memorial Day weekend gathering, more than a few family members wandered over to declare (more than ask), "So the Celtics are getting rid of Pierce."
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images
Will we see Paul Pierce in Celtics green again next season?After a disappointing first-round exit in this year's playoffs, a lot of Celtics fans subscribe to the belief that Boston needs to overhaul its roster in order to truly be competitive again. What has been somewhat surprising is that many seem resigned to the fact that any renovation starts with the departure of Pierce.
Make no mistake, with only $5 million guaranteed on his contract if waived before June 30, the Celtics will likely find some additional interest on the trade market from teams wishing to shed cap space. And being in the final year of a contract -- albeit one that will pay him $15.3 million if not waived -- still makes Pierce an intriguing asset to contenders, all without mortgaging their own future.
This week, we are taking a closer look at four primary scenarios in play for how Boston's offseason might unfold:
Keep the band together: Minimal changes, bank on health
Goodbye, captain: Roster tweaked with Pierce departure
Out with the old: Moving on without both KG and Pierce
Complete teardown: Extreme makeover, Celtics edition
During this series, we'll take a closer look at each possible option, gauge the potential for it to occur, determine some moves that might go along with it, and debate whether it's the best course of attack. Today's focus: Bidding farewell to the captain.
What it entails: The Celtics would facilitate a roster overhaul by either waiving Pierce (eating the $5 million guaranteed), exercising their amnesty rights on him (taking all of his salary off the books for next season, but potentially forcing the team to pay more than the $5 million guarantee), or trading him away. For the purposes of this exercise, we'll assume that much of Boston's roster would otherwise remain intact next season, including the return of Kevin Garnett.
Degree of difficulty: Medium. Finding a potential deal that works for both sides is tough enough. The more daunting task might simply be saying goodbye to Pierce after 15 NBA seasons, all in Boston. Waiving him (or the more drastic amnesty route) comes off as a bit cold-hearted and nets nothing in return that could soften the blow of losing the face of your franchise.
Why it makes sense: Coming off a dismal playoff performance, it's fair to wonder if Pierce is worth a $15.3 million price tag. He is set to turn 36 before the start of the 2013-14 season and the Celtics could maximize his value by moving him for younger assets if they find the right trading partner. If Jeff Green can continue to emerge as a scoring wing and show the sort of consistency we saw late in the 2012-13 season, it would ease the loss of Pierce, despite the team's lack of overall depth at the swing spot.
Why it doesn't make sense: Despite his postseason struggles, Pierce single-handedly carried the Celtics at times this year, particularly when injuries decimated Boston's roster. Even at an advanced age, he remains a professional scorer (as Doc Rivers loves calling him) and a crafty playmaker (one who prides himself on giving the game what it needs). Pierce is coming off his best rebounding season as a pro and might be the primary reason why the Celtics were even able to make the playoffs despite so much regular-season adversity. And let's not forget how tough it is to find an elite small forward in this league.
Let's make some deals: The one deal that armchair general managers seem to reference most in this scenario is some sort of swap with Utah in which the Celtics bring back old friend Al Jefferson, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. With the Jazz more likely to re-sign fellow free agent Paul Millsap and stocked with young frontcourt depth, there's a line of thought that wonders if Utah would be intrigued by a sign-and-trade package that would give them a much-needed veteran to lead a younger core. Another big-ticket free agent whose name will bubble up in these sorts of potential swaps is Atlanta's Josh Smith. The question for Boston is whether either of those players are franchise cornerstones, the type that the Celtics would have to commit sizable long-term dollars to in order to make those swaps (and that, naturally, will give the team pause). The idea of a Garnett-Jefferson or Garnett-Smith frontcourt is mighty intriguing. But, again, is either player the type of centerpiece the team can build around once Garnett retires?
Final thoughts: If Ainge can find a long-term building block for Boston in exchange for Pierce, it could take some of the sting off saying goodbye. But what is Pierce's value at this point? Is Boston going to find an impact player in return for one year of his service (or the cap space his smaller guarantee helps create)? The sign-and-trade route is intriguing, but is not without its hurdles. Allow this armchair general manager to remind those so willing to ship out Pierce that, while his price tag is a bit of an eyesore, he's still insanely productive and has great value as an in-season trade asset (when teams might be more willing to mortgage their futures; all while still giving the Celtics a chance to see what their core is capable of at the start of the season). And, ultimately, if the Celtics elect to hold onto Pierce through the season, there's still the benefit of cap room freed during the summer of 2014. All of which is to say, much like recent trade deadlines, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge should operate under the guise that he needs to be bowled over by an offer in order to make a swap. We shouldn't let one injury-riddled season leave fans so willing to bid farewell to a franchise player.
Your turn: Is it time to move on without Pierce? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments.