Paul Pierce may be on his way out of Boston. Again.
Per Marc Stein of ESPN.com, the Boston Celtics are exploring their trade options for the 15-year veteran.
Stein says that Danny Ainge and the Celtics are seeking a first-round pick in any deal they negotiate, and are also willing to help Pierce facilitate a move to a contender.
If Pierce can't be sent to a championship-caliber outfit, Boston could explore trading him to a team under the salary cap in exchange for some second-rounders in an effort to save $15-plus million. Or it could hold on to him and hope to move him at the trade deadline when contending franchises are beyond desperate.
Buying out Pierce is still an option, too, but given how well Pierce played last season and all that he means to the Celtics, it seems unlikely Boston is prepared to pay him $5 million to go on his merry way.
At the same time, it's still possible. Anything is. The Celtics are preparing to charter waters they haven't navigated in more than five years.
With saving money and/or acquiring a first-rounder being the primary goal, any scenario that allows the Celtics to do just that is still in play.
Boston Celtics Receive: 2013 first-round pick
Milwaukee Bucks Receive: SF Paul Pierce
Full disclosure: I hate this deal for Pierce. There is nothing to play for in Milwaukee. That said, Stein reports the Bucks are interested and if the Celtics can't work out a deal with a contender, they'll consider shipping Pierce to Milwaukee.
Extracting a first-round pick is Ainge's top priority in any Pierce deal. If the Bucks are offering this year's or even a future one and there are no better offers on the table, Ainge has to consider it.
Milwaukee has the cap space to assume Pierce's deal outright and one must assume it is prepared to part ways with a first-rounder at some point since it's being mentioned as a possible destination.
Pierce's playmaking abilities would be huge for a team that will likely be down Monta Ellis. He is also the vocal veteran that may be able to keep Brandon Jennings (restricted free agent) in line.
Said deal is admittedly classified as a long shot and I can't argue against such a categorization. And if the Bucks aren't putting a first-rounder on the table, the Celtics are far more likely to hold on to Pierce until the trade deadline than they are to hand him over to Milwaukee.
Boston Celtics Receive: Two second-round picks
Cleveland Cavaliers Receive: SF Paul Pierce
According to Stein, the Cavaliers are among the teams interested in acquiring Pierce, and per Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe, they're prepared to offer multiple second-round picks in exchange for his services.
Cleveland has the financial flexibility to assume all of Paul's $15.3 million without sending anything back to Boston in return and Pierce fits into its current blueprint rather perfectly.
Since his deal comes off the books after next season, Pierce doesn't muck up the Cavs' plan to chase LeBron James and others in 2014. Next to Kyrie Irving, he also puts Cleveland in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.
Ainge would fail to acquire the first-round pick he is apparently seeking here, but the Celtics would be shedding Pierce's entire contract, saving them upwards of $15 million and putting them in position to begin this long-awaited rebuild.
Now, the Cavaliers don't fit the championship-contender mold Pierce is believed to prefer. With him, they're a playoff team, not a title threat. That said, enduring one season there gives him a foot in the door in what could be something special next summer if the Cavs strike free-agency gold.
And hey, there are far worse places he could end up (like Milwaukee).
Brooklyn Nets Receive: SF Paul Pierce
Boston Celtics Get: SG MarShon Brooks, PF Kris Humphries and first-round pick
I'm not pulling this one out of my backside and calling it awesome. We're merely revisiting a proposed deal from this past season.
Per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Celtics and Nets discussed a deal under similar parameters leading into the trade deadline. Nothing materialized, but the package is intriguing now that the Celtics appear committed to rebuilding.
Humphries' contract comes off the books after next season and he would be a necessary replacement should Kevin Garnett decide to retire after Boston deals Pierce.
Brooks is an athletic scorer with plenty of offensive upside and could provide a spark off the bench—kind of like Jason Terry was supposed to. Ainge also nets the first-round pick he's coveting. Not to mention Boston could do much worse than this.
For Brooklyn's part, it's receiving a perennial All-Star in Pierce who would fit Jason Kidd's faster-paced offensive system better than Humphries. He also renders the Nets a more formidable contender in the East than they already are, serving as a secondary playmaker who can man the stretch-forward position and pick up the offensive slack Gerald Wallace and Joe Johnson are liable to leave on any given night.
Believe me when I say that acquiring Pierce would be as good as it gets for Brooklyn.
The Celtics buy out Pierce for $5 million and he goes on to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Reuniting with Doc Rivers after a very, very short separation is still possible.
Los Angeles initially planned to land Pierce via this scenario and there's nothing other than the Celtics keeping it from happening.
Assuming Stein's report about the Celtics being open to helping facilitate Pierce's move to a contender is accurate, buying him out is an avenue they'll have to explore if they can' find a first-rounder. And if they buy him out, you better believe he's headed to Tinseltown.
If the Celtics are committed to this rebuild, they owe it to Pierce to let him go. This leaves them with nothing, but they save more than $10 million next season. It also paves the way for Kevin Garnett to retire, which saves Boston even more cash.
No, this isn't ideal for the Celtics, but rebuilding never is. And if Ainge can't get that first-round selection, there are worse things than saving eight figures in salary and potential taxes—like footing a $15.3 million bill for a star who has no business being on a contender.
This particular scenario is more about Pierce and getting him somewhere he wants to be. Next to Rivers (and Chris Paul) is a place he'll want to be.
Boston Celtics Receive: SF Richard Jefferson, SG Kent Bazemore, $862,195 trade exception (Ekpe Udoh) and first-round pick
Golden State Warriors Receive: SF Paul Pierce
I would love this.
Getting Pierce to the Warriors will be complicated, but it is possible.
Per Larry Coon's CBA FAQ, taxpaying teams can only take back 125 percent plus $100,000 of their outgoing salaries. By pairing Jefferson's expiring contract with that of Bazemore's and the trade exception from their Udoh deal, the Warriors can take back somewhere between $15.3 and $15.8 million in salary. Pierce is slated to earn $15.3 million next year.
This trade isn't too appealing to the Celtics, since they're only saving a few million. However, it's important to remember that Stein wrote they're willing to work with Pierce on his next destination and that they're interested in a first-round pick. The latter is the key here.
Golden State is already prepared to pay into the luxury tax and if it's willing to relinquish a first-rounder for Pierce, this could happen.
Pierce allows the Warriors to run small more often and could serve as the perfect stretch 4 or even small forward alongside Harrison Barnes. His presence in Oakland would likely signify the end of Carl Landry's tenure with the Warriors.
Of course, with players like Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, along with Barnes and Stephen Curry (and maybe Jarrett Jack) to consider, the minutes situation could get dicey.
Still, I'd say that's a good problem to have.