Amidst the turmoil surrounding the Boston Celtics and their ongoing (though now apparently dead) discussions with the Los Angeles Clippers, it's starting to seem like—one way or another—next year's Cs are going to look vastly different. One of the biggest absences figures to be the departure of Paul Pierce.
Understand that Pierce is still a Celtic, but know also that the team is looking to get younger. Pierce, who has been with the team since 1998, probably has little interest in spending the few years he has left as part of a rebuilding project.
Though the talks that could have sent Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett to the Clippers have stalled yet again, it's difficult to imagine the Celtics getting the band back together for one more run after such a public indication that the coach and the front office are both ready to move on.
Pierce is in an odd situation, as he's got one more year on his deal and is technically not a free agent. Boston can buy him out for $5 million as long as it does so before June 30. Keeping him past that date guarantees him the full $15.3 million on the final year of his contract.
So, there are a lot of possibilities here. Boston could go for the buyout, freeing Pierce up to sign anywhere. Or, the team could trade its most iconic star since Larry Bird. However this summer shakes out, it certainly appears as though Pierce will be wearing another jersey next year.
Fortunately, he's got a few good options.
Yeah, the talks between the Clippers and Celtics seem to be dead. But so what? Pierce could still easily head home to Los Angeles if Boston buys him out.
Many believed that the third phase of the Rivers-to-L.A. deal was going to be Pierce joining up by way of a buyout, so it's not crazy to imagine him ending up with the Clippers even if the larger deal between the teams doesn't get done.
The Clippers need to gear their entire offseason toward pleasing Chris Paul and getting him to re-sign. Bringing Pierce on board as a free agent couldn't hurt.
An immediate upgrade over Caron Butler, Pierce could impart some of the lessons he learned under Rivers in the Celtics' excellent team-defense scheme. L.A. struggled to stop the low-scoring Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Semifinals last season, so any input from a guy who's been a part of great defensive units would certainly help.
If Pierce decides to chase a championship, Los Angeles would be a good place to do that.
And remember, it's still entirely possible that Garnett ends up with the Clippers via trade. That would only add to the appeal of this destination for Pierce.
The Celtics were rumored to have been interested in shipping Pierce and Avery Bradley to the New Orleans Pelicans for Eric Gordon as recently as May. While it's hard to imagine Pierce wanting to stick around with a team as far from competing as the Hornets are, a lot of this deal makes sense.
First of all, the Celtics would get back a talented albeit risky and expensive guard in Gordon. Knee injuries have resulted in his max deal looking like a bad one, but maybe he'd suddenly rediscover his form in a new locale.
The Pelicans would be happy to get a young, inexpensive player like Bradley in return for Gordon, whose onerous contract largely prevents them from engineering the total rebuild around Anthony Davis that the franchise probably needs.
The beauty part for Pierce is that the Pelicans could still buy him out, so long as they did so before June 30. That would free Pierce up to hit the market if he didn't like what he saw in New Orleans.
The Miami Heat do it every year: Some veteran free agent becomes available, Pat Riley flashes his jewelry and said vet takes less money to chase a ring. Shane Battier did it, Ray Allen did it and now Paul Pierce could be next.
The Heat are deep into the luxury tax with about $85 million committed to next year's salaries, but that was also the case this season, when they doled out $83 million. Clearly, a few extra bucks for being over the tax line doesn't bother the Heat.
If Boston buys Pierce out, he'd have his pick of destinations. If he's willing to accept the veteran's minimum or the mini mid-level exception to join the Heat, he'd be in optimal shape to chase a second NBA title.
And if Miami wants to trim a bit of salary to ease the tax hit, it could amnesty Mike Miller and his $6 million salary next year.
Given the battles Pierce has had with the Heat over the years, this scenario is probably the most far-fetched, but if we're talking about the best spots for Pierce, Miami definitely warrants a mention.
There are no rumors swirling to support the Oklahoma City Thunder being a possible destination for Pierce, but remember: We're only looking at landing spots that would be good for him. I'd say a team as young, talented and in need of his services as the Thunder certainly qualifies.
OKC seems likely to let Kevin Martin walk away as a free agent, meaning its current salary commitments for the 2013-14 season is only about $66 million. Martin was a fine scorer, but teams constantly attacked him on the other end, often nullifying his value on offense.
The Thunder could bring Pierce on (assuming Boston buys him out) at a discounted rate, reunite him with old pal Kendrick Perkins and put him to work. Pierce could fit as a starter at the small forward spot, or perhaps serve as a leader of the second unit like James Harden once did.
Either way, he still has the two-way skills to give the Thunder a major boost.
If he doesn't want to bed down with the hated Heat, join a team on the rise like the Cavs or return home to L.A., the Thunder are a perfect fit. Remember, OKC proved it was good enough to make the finals two years ago, and with its youth, there's still plenty of room for improvement.
Pierce could help elevate Oklahoma City to a whole new level.
For years now, Pierce has been a crusty, old vet on a team full of guys just like him. Perhaps his experience and championship chops could be of more use on an up-and-coming squad like the Cleveland Cavaliers.
For what it's worth the Cavs have reportedly shown interest already.
According to Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio, Cleveland has been discussing a deal with the Celtics that would involve a pair of second-round selections heading to Boston in exchange for Pierce. That might not seem like much, but considering that Celtics GM Danny Ainge is strongly considering paying Pierce $5 million to play elsewhere, a couple of early second-rounders isn't so bad.
Pierce would immediately improve the Cavs, who desperately need a shooter to help space the floor. Plus, with an improving core, the No. 1 overall pick and a hopefully healthy Kyrie Irving, Pierce would be a key piece of a team that most expect to take a major step forward next season.