Potential Landing Spots for Paul Pierce
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Since an emergency trip to the hospital in September of 2000, things have never been more up in the air concerning No. 34's basketball future.
Pierce recovered fully from being stabbed at a nightclub, going on to play all 82 games that season. Of course, Pierce was in his early 20s then. He'll turn 36 before opening night of the 2013-14 season and faces a very different kind of question this offseason.
There is only one professional basketball uniform which Pierce has ever known. Since joining the league in 1998, he has spent every second as a representative of the Boston Celtics organization.
That organization has been craving a new direction for some time now, unable to totally let go of Pierce and all the glory he has brought them over the last 15 years. This offseason may present Danny Ainge and the Celtics with too good an opportunity to move on.
Pierce is set to make $15.3 million next season, though not all of that is guaranteed. The Celtics can opt to pay him $5 million, allowing him to hit the free-agent market while severing his relationship with Boston.
Many signs point directly to that happening soon, with just over a month remaining before his contract becomes guaranteed. If this is the way the script plays out, there are sure to be a few contenders filling up Pierce's phone line.
Los Angeles Clippers
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Perhaps the most commonly known possibility for Paul Pierce is the Los Angeles Clippers.
Still, the landing spot makes a lot of sense for both sides. Pierce could slide right into another contender's pocket, one that desperately needs some veteran leadership and secondary scoring.
Los Angeles also brings Pierce back to his childhood roots. He grew up in Inglewood, CA, just 20 minutes from the Staples Center. Signing with the Clippers would allow him to play close to his hometown while remaining on the good side of Los Angeles Laker-hating Celtics fans.
The Clippers have been eliminated too early in back-to-back playoff runs since trading for Chris Paul. It is clear they are missing something, holding them back from being legitimate title contenders.
Chris Paul's load on the team is not just facilitator, but crunch-time scorer and overall leader of a young and occasionally difficult team. This is something Pierce could help with. He has been the clutch option in Boston almost since joining the organization. He can also provide a locker-room voice that will help Paul police the Clippers.
Los Angeles right now has considerable room to take on salary, though all this hinges on them being able to re-sign Paul in free agency. If they do that, they have the room for Pierce's contract, or the youthful assets that Danny Ainge is craving, to make a trade.
Los Angeles Lakers
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A different Los Angeles-related scenario involves Paul Pierce joining a long-time nemesis and longer-time Boston Celtics rival.
The Los Angeles Lakers are at a crossroads with a lot of their biggest players. They hold amnesty rights for Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, while Dwight Howard is a free agent. World Peace can also terminate his contract early, forfeiting $7.7 million.
If the Lakers are able to save themselves some space against the luxury tax by amnestying one of those big names, they could bring Pierce in without penalty. As it would with the Los Angeles Clippers, this would bring Pierce back out West and close to home.
That is a fact that could help the Lakers. If they can convince Pierce, (already making $5 million from Boston in this scenario) to come home on a cheaper deal, they could also avoid the tax-level.
Pierce gives the Lakers something they haven't had in some time, a legitimate secondary perimeter scorer. He provides a different look than World Peace from the small forward position. While he can still defend at a solid level, the scoring efficiency would be what is most attractive to the Lakers.
By virtue of laundry, Pierce has been at odds with the Lakers his entire career. On the other hand, buying out a player requires a certain amount of disrespect, so don't expect Pierce to feel a ton of remorse over switching to purple and gold.
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We'll never know how close Paul Pierce actually came to being a member of the Dallas Mavericks, but it is for sure still on the table.
In a proposed three-team trade at the 2013 deadline, Pierce would have been shipped to Dallas, bringing the Atlanta Hawks' Josh Smith to the Boston Celtics. Danny Ainge was still gun-shy though, and refused to throw in his first-round pick, voiding the trade possibility.
The Celtics' run didn't extend as far as Ainge would have liked, and the Mavericks missed the playoffs for the first time since 2000. That is enough to leave both Ainge and the Mark Cuban-Donnie Nelson pairing a bit on edge.
The Mavericks are entering an uncertain offseason, just like the Celtics. The difference is, Dallas has an abundance of cap room with which to play the free-agency game with. They should have plenty of space to add Pierce to the books next season.
The Mavericks have the superstar talent in Dirk Nowitzki, which could attract a veteran like Pierce. Pairing the two gets them to the playoffs, but may not make a title contender. Getting a second veteran scorer in the fold will help the Mavericks attract others and eventually get where they want to go.
Dallas' first two targets are a bruising big and a point guard, neither of which means Paul Pierce. If he winds up in Dallas, it will be to play with Nowitzki or because the other options aren't as open as originally thought.
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The Houston Rockets are still on the outskirts of being a real contender in the Western Conference. However, they showed great promise this past season and have plenty of opportunities for improvement over the offseason.
The Rockets are one team that can afford to pay a little extra to have the luxury of Paul Pierce on their squad for next season. Despite the pay-bump to James Harden, they will be well within the limits next year.
While the Rockets really don't need much offensive help, they could benefit from having a true veteran presence on their team. There are very few teams as young and inexperienced as Houston who will make real noise in the playoffs. Pierce adds legitimacy to their operation and could make them more than first-round fodder for the top seeds.
The Rockets have the opportunity to pull the team option that Fransisco Garcia is owed, which opens up some 20-25 minutes of playing time on the wing and $6.4 million in the books. Even in his mid-30s, Pierce is a massive upgrade over Garcia in every aspect.
A move like this would mean Pierce is agreeing to perhaps a reserve position, and would serve as a mentor to players like Harden and Chandler Parsons, who are the long-term stars of the organization.
Despite that background role, Pierce would be an important part of the Rockets game. When a game-winner is needed at the buzzer, you won't find a better second-option than Pierce to put on the floor.
Oklahoma City Thunder
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The Oklahoma City Thunder may be the best team out there with the contending juice and positional availability to attract Paul Pierce.
A second-round exit is not on par with what the Thunder wanted out of this season. Russell Westbrook injury or not, this is a step back for the organization. They lost in the James Harden trade, and Kevin Martin is a free agent now.
That means Martin's 28 minutes per game on the wing, as well as $12.4 million contract, are open as well. Though the majority of that money will go to Serge Ibaka, who sees a nice $10 million bump next year, what's left could add enough to entice Pierce.
If Pierce is bought out by Boston, he isn't going to a rebuilding team. He will want to be the final piece that will make a team a title contender. The Thunder were there just one year ago, playing in the NBA Finals. Now they are out an All-Star wing in Harden and his average replacement in Martin.
The Thunder have shown a willingness to sign veteran talent like Derek Fisher to help with the growth of their young team. They've had good luck with it as well, with Fisher proving to help on the court as much as off.
Thabo Sefolosha has held the starting spot for the majority of the last five years with the Thunder, but a name like Paul Pierce could push them into making a change. There is also the possibility of moving Kevin Durant to power forward and starting without a true center.
All of that is simply window-dressing though. If Pierce wants to go for a second ring and Boston won't have him, the Thunder should have open arms.
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Another Western Conference contender that disappointed this postseason was the Denver Nuggets. Like the Oklahoma City Thunder, they will be searching for a boost this offseason.
With word of Andre Iguodala likely opting out of his final year with the team, small forward minutes in Denver are a big attraction. That move will save the Nuggets $16 million and give them ample room to sign a possible free agent like Paul Pierce this offseason
The Nuggets truly need defensive help from that position, making this somewhat of a long shot. However, he does give them the offensive star they might be lacking outside the point guard position.
The knock on Denver all year was that when the playoffs come, the stars rise and the others fade away. Stephen Curry rose, and the Nuggets had no one to match him point-for-point in the first round. Pierce may not have that left in him, but he might also be the best chance they have.
Iguodala started 80 games for the Nuggets on the wing, playing 34.7 minutes a night. Corey Brewer, a definite free agent, saw 24.4 minutes per game as a reserve wing. The Nuggets need to fill those holes this summer.
If Iguodala prices out and the other big names start signing elsewhere, they could make a play for Pierce.
Until anything official happens and Pierce is bought out for $5 million, he is a Boston Celtic.
Experts can give conjecture and Danny Ainge can ruminate on the possibilities of a younger team, but for now, Pierce's basketball jersey sits where it has sat for all of his professional life, in Massachusetts.
Recently it was confirmed that Doc Rivers would be returning to coach the Celtics next season. Rivers was the first step in bringing calm to what could become a hectic summer. He will remain with Boston, which could signal that a rebuilding year is not totally in the cards for the Celtics.
Rivers has a strong bond with both Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Garnett's $12.4 million contract is fully guaranteed for 2013-14, but the thought was if Pierce and possibly Rivers were gone, he would retire or waive his no-trade clause. With Rivers back for sure, Garnett could want to make another run with a healthy roster.
This would imply that Pierce would also return to finish out his contract. Immediately, this would put Boston up against, or just over, the NBA's tax line. They would have to get creative elsewhere to avoid it.
However, from a basketball standpoint, having Paul Pierce is a blessing, not a burden. He took this roster to the postseason after Rajon Rondo went down and Garnett limped through the final month.
He played 77 games, averaging 18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists. Those aren't small numbers, nor are they easily replaced.
If things stay the same, that jersey won't leave the state. It will simply slide down the Mass Pike to Springfield.