Are Boston Celtics Desperate Enough to Trade Paul Pierce?
The 10-time All-Star has spent all 14 of his seasons with the Celtics and is one of the few NBA players who we can't picture in a different uniform.
According to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, however, Pierce may find himself donning the colors of another team by season's end:
Team executives involved in exploratory trade talks report that the Knicks (Amar'e Stoudemire), Lakers (Pau Gasol), Raptors (Bargnani) and Celtics (Paul Pierce) are open to discussing their high-profile names. In every case but one, the early indications are that none could be moved without a bad contract going back in return.
The lone exception, executives say, may be Pierce, whose ruthless scoring prowess and championship experience come with another attractive feature: only $4 million of his $15.3 million salary is guaranteed next season.
With the Celtics playing better since Avery Bradley returned from injury, president Danny Ainge once again finds himself trying to determine whether the remnants of the 2007-08 championship team have enough to make one more run. Some rival executives believe the Celtics recently waived Jarvis Varnado and Kris Joseph to create roster flexibility for a potential trade.
If Ainge decides to stand pat, a deal involving Pierce—which would mark the true end of the Big Three era—could be re-examined around the draft or during free agency.
And here's where desperation comes in.
On the one hand, the Celtics are desperate to win. They didn't commit over $80 million in salary to toil in obscurity, after all. With the exception of their last five games, though, that's exactly what Boston has done.
From lethargic play on both ends of the floor, to the absence of an identity, to inexplicable foibles, the Celtics have spent a majority of the year playing like a defeated team—like an old team.
As such, perhaps it's time for Danny Ainge to break up Boston's core even more. The ground work for such a dismantling was laid when Ray Allen absconded to South Beach, and moving on from Pierce would only further an occurrence widely deemed inevitable.
It also makes plenty of sense depending upon how you look at it.
At 35, Pierce is no longer the future of this team—Rajon Rondo is. That said, at 19.6 points per game, a PER of 20.3 and a reputation as one of the most clutch performers in the game, he still holds a significant amount of market value.
Dealing Pierce now, before his value has deteriorated, allows Boston to capitalize off his departure as much as possible.
And why not? Pierce and company have spent most of the season fighting to stay above .500, battling to keep their heads above water anyway.
Boston has rattled off five straight wins, four of which have come against playoff hopefuls, leaving plenty—including the Celtics themselves—to ponder whether this current convocation has yet another championship push in them.
Now's where the confusion comes into play.
Though the Celtics are desperate to win, they're unsure as to how to make it happen.
Ainge thought he had bought this team more time; he believed he had put them in a position to continue contending.
But less than halfway through the season, it's apparent all he did was perpetuate the ambivalence that has become synonymous with Boston. Remember, the Celtics entertained the idea of dismembering their faction just last season, only to gamble and let it ride.
Boston came within one victory of another finals appearance. So we must understand the Celtics' trepidation with pulling the trigger on any Pierce deal.
This team began the season 5-9 last year only to finish out the campaign 34-18 and snag a top-four finish in the Eastern Conference. After beginning the current crusade 14-17, such a revival just didn't seem possible.
And yet, here the Celtics sit, five games later, attempting to prove our most recent sentiments false.
So is Boston.
What we must understand here is this has nothing to do with Pierce per se.
This isn't about saving money. Just $4.5 million of the forward's $15.3 million salary is guaranteed next season. He doesn't stand to enfeeble the Celtics financially.
No, this has to do about winning. Boston has an array of other pieces who can score, yet if this aggregation isn't panning out, parlaying Pierce into some younger, star-esque talent injects additional hope into their cause.
As the Celtics are currently proving, though, it's not that simple.
Boston has held its opponents to less than 100 points in six straight contests, playing the same type of asphyxiating defense that eluded them all season long.
The same genre of trammeling defense that carried this team to the brink of the finals less than one year ago.
The same kind of stifling defense that is being complemented by Pierce's team-leading 19.6 points a night.
How is Boston supposed to give that up?
Well, because Pierce isn't in his prime and he's not one of the members keeping this defense afloat. Doc Rivers' crew actually allows fewer points with their star forward on the bench. But they also score nearly five points more per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
See the problem?
Will Paul Pierce finish the season with the Boston Celtics?
Dealing (or not dealing) Pierce is about winning. Not necessarily rebuilding, but what is going to put the Celtics in the best position to win both now and later.
Make no mistake—Boston is desperate to win. Desperate to the point where it would do anything to make winning a reality, trading Pierce included.
But the Celtics are also confused, baffled by the sudden resurgence of a once lifeless team—again.
And it's this confusion, this curiosity that will ultimately keep Pierce in Boston green.
Just like it did last season.
*Stats in this article are accurate as of January 12, 2013.
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