The Brooklyn Nets are romping through the Eastern Conference after a dismal start to the season.
Since the New Year they have a 25-10 record, and they haven't lost consecutive games since dropping three in a row from Jan. 27 to Feb. 1.
Now that the team is riding high, it might not seem critical to discuss the future of the franchise. But it is the responsibility of general manager Billy King to ensure the Nets hold on to their best players for next season.
It may come as a surprise, then, that King has not discussed a contract extension with starting forward Paul Pierce, per The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn:
Pierce ranks third on the team at 13.4 points per game, and second in both total points (815) and total minutes (1,737). On the other side of the court, he leads Brooklyn with 2.0 defensive win shares. Clearly, he is a vital cog in the Brooklyn machine.
This is Pierce's first season with the Nets, who acquired him and Kevin Garnett in a stunning summer trade with the rebuilding Boston Celtics. Prior to the trade, Pierce had spent all of his 15-year career in Boston, culminating in an NBA championship in 2008. Pierce's Celtics also reached the 2010 NBA Finals before falling in Game 7 to that eternal Boston nemesis, the Los Angeles Lakers.
When the two former Celtics returned to Boston in January, Garnett recalled the toughness shown by Pierce during their championship run, per the New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy: "I can remember Paul playing through the flu in Cleveland. He was throwing up and everybody saw he had to take like two or three IVs and he played."
Pierce is already an NBA legend, a surefire Hall of Famer. He recently passed Patrick Ewing for 18th place on the all-time scoring list, per The Brooklyn Game:
With 24,817 points, Paul Pierce has passed Patrick Ewing on the all-time NBA scoring list, the 18th-most of all time.— The Brooklyn Game (@TheBKGame) March 16, 2014
While there's no guarantee the 36-year-old Pierce even wants to play next season, he will likely want to stay with his longtime teammate Garnett, who is signed with the Nets through 2014-15.
No matter what happens with Pierce, Brooklyn will be over the salary cap next season. Three important preserves—Andrei Kirilenko, Andray Blatche and Alan Anderson—have player options for next season. If they decide to opt out, Brooklyn will be hard-pressed to replace them.
What's more, starting guard Shaun Livingston will be an unrestricted free agent.
The Nets do have one of the league's most generous owners in Mikhail Prokhorov, so money probably won't be an option.
Clearly, the Nets aren't worried that Pierce will leave (or retire) at the end of the season. Even if he does, there's not a whole lot the front office can do to change this roster.
*All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.