So it certainly came as a surprise Thursday when Brooklyn GM Billy King, during an interview on ESPN New York 98.7 FM’s “The Michael Kay Show,” said the Nets would all of a sudden become fiscally responsible in their negotiations with the unrestricted free-agent forward.
Pierce has already drawn interest from several contenders, including the Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies, sources told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.
Those are some extremely attractive options -- especially L.A., where Pierce could be reunited with his former coach Doc Rivers and get to play with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, two of the most dominant players in the league.
The Nets’ biggest advantage over the competition when it comes to trying to retain Pierce is that they hold his Bird rights, enabling them to pay him more money than any other team.
But Brooklyn, sources said, would like to keep Pierce on a short-term contract worth between $6 million and $8 million a year.
It’s completely understandable that the Nets don’t want to overpay for Pierce. But they’ve already committed more than $90 million in player salaries for next season, so what’s the difference?
Why spend all that money only to suddenly practice austerity when it comes to keeping a future Hall of Fame forward who all but singlehandedly carried your franchise through to the second round with his late-game heroics in Toronto in Games 1 and 7?
The Nets made a huge splash last offseason, acquiring both Pierce and Kevin Garnett in a blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics. They sacrificed three future first-round picks (2014, 2016 and 2018) and a potential first-round-pick swap (2017) to obtain those players.
Every indication points toward Garnett returning for his 20th season, while taking home $12 million for his work in 2014-15. But it remains to be seen whether Pierce, who provided leadership, tenacious defense and the occasional offensive outburst, will join his longtime teammate in Brooklyn or go elsewhere.
The Nets did lose $144 million in basketball-related activities last season, as Grantland reported. Most of that was attributed to luxury taxes; Brooklyn is going to be handing over a check to the league for a record of nearly $92 million.
Maybe it’s just posturing. Still, with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez rehabbing from surgeries and Joe Johnson, Andrei Kirilenko and Garnett all getting a year older, now isn’t the time to give Pierce another reason to walk.
Even with the unfortunate departure of Shaun Livingston, this team should have plenty of depth behind its core group. Mason Plumlee (24) and Markel Brown (22) will provide much-needed athleticism, while Mirza Teletovic (27) will be asked to space the floor once again. Throw mini midlevel exception target Bojan Bogdanovic (25) into the mix, and you’re talking about the beginnings of a quality youth movement.
Still, this team is built on veterans, and Pierce -- even if he might not have much left in the tank entering his age-37 campaign -- needs to be one of them. That’s not to say the Nets should have to pay him the $15.3 million he made last season. But they need to give him enough so he’s not tempted to depart for greener pastures elsewhere.
That’s their advantage: money. And they need to use it. Ever since owner Mikhail Prokhorov has taken over, they have. There’s no reason to stop now.