The situation that the Celtics are in this off season is a tough one. The first roster decision likely to be made, and one that will affect every other one is what to do with Paul Pierce. Celtics GM, Danny Ainge, has options and I'm sure he is going to explore every one of them to the fullest before making the decision.
Pierce is in the last year of his contract and will earn $15.3 million in 2013, however the team can buy him out for $5 million if they choose to. Danny can choose to keep Pierce for the final year of his contract. He can use the buyout clause in the contract and save $10 million dollars on the contract for next season. Or, he can find a trade partner who will offer a player, or players, who will give the Celtics more than what Paul Pierce could. It has to be an extremely difficult decision for Danny. I know it is for me.
There have been rumors swirling that Danny is "likely" to buy Pierce out. This option doesn't really make sense to me. The Celtics would save $10 million dollars but that doesn't really accomplish much. The Celtics owe $73,064,519 for the 2013-14 season, including Pierce's salary. That doesn't include Shavlik Randolph, who a majority of fans would like to see return. It also doesn't include this year's draft pick (or picks if Danny picks up another one). Cutting $10 million from that leaves us with over $63 million in salaries owed, which is still over the salary cap. We can't use that money to sign another player to help the team. We would still have only the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions to sign players, with or without Pierce's salary. The only difference it would make would be the amount of luxury tax owed. It would help the owners' pocketbooks, but wouldn't do much to improve the team. We would be giving up an All Star and getting nothing in return.
Another option would be to trade Pierce. Danny has shown us in years past that if he doesn't feel he is getting good value for his players he won't pull the trigger on a trade. In spite of having another All Star season, Pierce struggled in the playoffs. He will be 36 years old when the season starts. While he still has some good basketball in him and can help a contender, will teams be willing to give up young prospects and draft picks (certainly what Danny would ask for if rebuilding) for a 36 year old Pierce? I'm sure he is going to explore all possibilities before making up his mind. This is certainly a bigger possibility than just releasing him as the Celtics would at least get something in return.
There was a rumor that the Pelicans were willing to trade Eric Gordon for Pierce and Bradley. I don't see Danny giving up a young player like Bradley along with Pierce to get an injury prone player who hasn't proved that he can stay on the court. There are also rumors that the Cavs would like to have Pierce. But, Pierce would want to go to a contender and he certainly deserves to go to a contender rather than a rebuilding team. The Clippers have been mentioned as have the Lakers, and Pierce is from LA so that would make sense, but would they be willing to trade players Danny feels are equal value.
Of course, a trade may also include draft picks. If Danny decides to trade Pierce, he is almost certainly going to full rebuild mode and that would mean gathering as many assets as he can. Danny has been checking out players that probably won't be around with the 16th pick so he could be looking into using Pierce as a piece that will allow him to move up in the draft or to gain an extra draft pick or two.
Finally, the Celtics could bring Pierce back for the final year on his contract. That would more than likely mean that KG will return as well and the core of Rondo, KG and Pierce will get one more run at the title together. As much as I know that rebuilding is probably better for the team, my heart just won't let me go in that direction. I have watched Paul Pierce grow up as a Celtic. He is the Captain of the team and he is a Celtic. I just can't picture him on another team. As much as my head says trade him, my heart says that he deserves to retire as a Celtic.
Years ago, before the trade that brought KG to the Celtics, Pierce could have left the Celtics in free agency to go to a contender. He chose to stay and to help build a contender in Boston. He had no guarantees they would be able to, but he was loyal to the Celtics and that should count for something. Celtics' owner Wyc Grousbeck has also stated that he would like to have Pierce back. He is a Pierce fan and if he has a say in the matter, I'm thinking that we'll see the Captain back in green.
The decision on Pierce's fate has to be made by June 30 if they intend to buy out his contract. A team wanting to trade for Pierce to use his buyout to gain some cap room (like the Mavs who are trying to lure CP3 and Howard) would have to make the trade before the 30th in order to exercise that option. Of course, Danny could keep Pierce beyond that deadline and then trade him afterward if the buyout wasn't a factor. So many decisions and options. One thing is certain, however. Pierce is likely the first domino in a line of them. Once the decision is made on his future, the rest will fall into place.
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