GM King looks to keep Pierce, Garnett

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Brooklyn Nets general manager Billy King described the Jason Kidd-Nets divorce as a “speed bump.”

The Nets are hoping it doesn’t become a road block when it comes to getting Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to return to the franchise for a second season.

Pierce became a free agent at midnight Tuesday and the Nets want to re-sign the veteran forward, who has drawn interest from several teams, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein. Garnett has one season at $12 million remaining on his contract, but he could change his mind about returning and opt to retire or possibly seek a trade. All indications had been that Garnett was planning to return for a 20th season, but it remains to be seen how Kidd’s departure impacts Pierce's and Garnett’s plans.

When asked during an interview on WFAN radio if he has confidence that Pierce wants to play another year or two in Brooklyn, King replied, "Yes."

King had lunch with Pierce a few weeks ago and got a positive impression from the free agent about his thoughts on the outlook of the organization and living in New York. The GM has also been in regular contact with Garnett’s side.

"We talked about his free agency, his family, the season, looking at the big picture of everything,” King said of Pierce on Tuesday morning during a press conference to discuss Kidd's departure. “Mainly, it was more just talking about his thoughts on the season. There were a lot of positives. I don’t think he just said, OK, the one thing was over is Jason, that is why I came here. I think he looked [at] a lot of it from family life and everything like that. So you continue to talk to them.”

“Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, where they are in their careers, they are going to look [and say], OK, do I have a chance to win," King added. "Maybe it is not to win a championship, but maybe, once you get into the playoffs, everybody has got a chance. So that is what I think they are going to look at, what’s the best place and best opportunity for me to continue to win.”

The Nets own Pierce’s Bird rights, so they can pay him more than any other team. Sources have said that the Nets ideally would like to sign Pierce to a short-term contract starting from $6-8 million per year. Pierce, who made $15.3 million last season, has received interest from the Clippers, Blazers, Grizzlies, Bulls, Mavericks and Rockets, according to Stein.

“The market is gonna determine itself,” King said. “There’s some guys, you’re like, this is what the market’s gonna be, and they go higher. Some agents don’t know, so the next couple days I’ll have an idea of where it’s gonna be.

Regarding free agent Shaun Livingston, the Nets' starter at shooting guard, King said, "It’s gonna be difficult, I do know that. Paul, we do have Bird rights, but we’re not gonna go crazy. But we understand the value that he has for us and the impact, and we’d like him back.”

Pierce has said he believes he has one to two seasons of high-level basketball left in him and wants to play for a championship. It remains to be seen how he views the Nets’ situation now, not only given Kidd’s departure but also in terms of the stability and direction of the organization and the team’s prospects for the immediate future.

The Nets want to keep the core of their team together as much as possible but are bracing for the fact that they could lose Livingston, a pivotal starter, in free agency. The Nets can pay Livingston only the $3.2 million midlevel exception, and sources believe Livingston will command more than that after a breakout season.

Also, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are coming off surgeries and the Nets might not have their two young stars at full strength for some time. Add a new coach and a new system to learn, and the Nets can use Pierce's and Garnett’s leadership to help keep things together for the new coach at the start of the season.

Former Memphis coach Lionel Hollins is the front-runner at the moment in the Nets’ search for a coach.

“I have kept [Pierce] abreast of at this point who we are talking to,” King said. “I won’t say, OK, if I hire this guy, are you coming back, because it still comes down to dollars and cents for Paul, as well."

The Nets made a blockbuster trade that included sending three first-round picks to Boston to land Pierce and Garnett last summer. Kidd played a role in convincing the two to accept the deal and for Garnett to waive his no-trade clause.

The two were vocal about their support for Kidd during his first season as a head coach, and their support was a major reason why the Nets' ownership decided not to make a coaching change in December when the team was in the midst of a tumultuous 10-21 start.

Kidd is gone now after asking for and not receiving additional control over basketball decisions and later receiving permission to talk to the Bucks. While the Nets need a new coach, they are maintaining the same approach, which is to keep trying to win now. King just hopes he will have Pierce and Garnett around this season to make another run.

“At the end of the day, players have to look and evaluate what's best for them,” King said. “I don’t think any of them just decide, OK, I am only coming back if this is in place. They look at, do I have a chance to win?

“We know where we want to go, what we want to do. I think when we went through this trade, we talked about it being a two-year window. So this is the second year of the window.”