An unrestricted free agent after completing the final season of his four-year, $61 million deal, Pierce has options now. Retirement is certainly one of them, but nothing about his performance this past year screamed "washed up."
Far from it, actually.
Remember, it was Pierce's fiery leadership (and key block in Game 7) that helped Brooklyn advance past the Toronto Raptors in the first round. It's safe to say he's a few years away from a rocking chair and the early bird special at Denny's.
Paul Pierce: "I still think I have something to give a team." Says he has one or two more years "at most."— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) May 15, 2014
But his time in the league is limited. Pierce will be 37 before the 2014-15 season begins, way past the expiration date of most wing players.
He'd better get this next move right, because he won't get another one.
One More Shot
Pierce has made almost $185 million in his career, per Basketball-Reference.com, so it's not as though he's hurting for cash. But if he wants to collect a little more scratch, Brooklyn is probably the place to do it.
Though capped out beyond belief and paying a luxury tax big enough to finance a handful of revolutions in developing nations (or add a few more gold-plated Sea-Doos to Mikhail Prokhorov's fleet), the Nets can still pay Pierce more than anybody else.
They have his Bird rights, which allows them to exceed the cap to retain their own free agents.
For what it's worth, Pierce might consider sticking around to collect a few more big checks. But he also seems to think there's a chance to build on what happened this season in Brooklyn, telling Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:
Although we didn't accomplish our goals, you got to learn from it and see coming in next year, whether I will be here, or guys coming in, they got to understand that this is the precedent that we set. So going forward, for the organization, making the first round last year, making the second round, I think the organization is heading in the right direction.
You'll note he wasn't committal about being part of the ongoing building process, but at least he's optimistic.
On the other hand, there's no guarantee the Nets will retain some of their other key pieces next season.
Kevin Garnett looks completely done as an impact player and could easily walk away. He and Pierce have been joined at the hip for nearly a decade, so you'd have to think KG's absence would factor into Pierce's thought process on returning.
If Kevin Garnett plans on retiring, we don't know. He left without speaking to reporters.— Rod Boone (@rodboone) May 15, 2014
And the exodus from Brooklyn might not stop there:
Andray Blatche said he's opting out of deal to become a free agent and explore options. Said he still wants to re-sign.— Stefan Bondy (@NYDNInterNets) May 15, 2014
Anytime that losing Andray Blatche seems like a big deal, it's a good indicator the team isn't on a championship trajectory.
But at least Brooklyn plays in a soft conference where Pierce knows he can stumble into the playoffs with relative ease. There's a lot to be said for certainty at Pierce's age, and it seems like a lock the Nets will be in the postseason next year.
While a homecoming would warm everyone's heart, Pierce's return to Boston—if it ever happens—will be of the ceremonial variety. The C's will retire his jersey, everybody will get all weepy and maybe Pierce will take on some kind of advisory role in the front office.
He's not going to play in green again, though.
The Celtics aren't in the market for farewell tours or veterans who'd only get in the way of developing young talent. They're moving forward with a boatload of first-rounders (three of whom came from the trade that sent Pierce to Brooklyn in the first place) and a new vision.
Everyone loves The Truth in Boston, but nobody really believes he'll suit up for the Celtics again.
Then there's the Los Angeles Clippers, an intriguing option that could give Pierce everything he wants.
He'd reunite with Doc Rivers, slot into a starting lineup that features championship-caliber talent in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and get to return to his beloved Southern California. Pierce grew up a Lakers fan, but like so many in SoCal, I'm sure he'd be willing to change his allegiance to the front-running Clips.
L.A. would have to bring Pierce in on a veteran's minimum or use the mid-level exception, because it's capped out next season. If Pierce wants to win, he'd probably consider a pay cut.
And remember, he almost wound up in a Clippers uniform as part of the deal that sent Rivers to Los Angeles this past summer. Per B/R's Dan Favale:
Lingo plucked from the collective bargaining agreement prohibited such an arrangement from going down, but you always got the sense this wasn't over. Pierce was going to hit free agency in 2014, so this kind of chatter was inevitable given his ties to Rivers and the city of Los Angeles.
The Clips could sure use someone like Pierce, too. He's a little more even-keeled than either Paul or Griffin, and the team needs a big wing in the starting lineup. Matt Barnes has been in the first unit for all of L.A.'s playoff games this year, and he's got value as an energy guy who defends and plays with a serious edge.
But Pierce would be a massive upgrade—even at his age.
As you can see, it doesn't take much to be better than the Clippers' current cast of wings. Pierce could be the missing piece in L.A.
The One Thing That Actually Matters
Ultimately, Pierce is justified in looking around this summer. And it's very likely he'll find a situation that offers an opportunity to make a deeper playoff run than he can expect with the Nets.
For all the positives of returning to Brooklyn (an easy road to the postseason being one of them), there's really no chance to win a title with that team. The core is too old, financial flexibility is nonexistent and almost nobody on the roster projects to improve on what they did this past season—with apologies to Mason Plumlee.
That team should easily make the dance with Brook Lopez back, but his health is always going to be a concern, and the Nets' surge started after he went down early in the year.
Making the playoffs isn't the goal for Pierce, though. It hasn't been for a while.
At this stage, Pierce is chasing rings. He has nothing left to prove and nothing else left to play for. And when you frame the situation that way, there's no logical case for him returning to Brooklyn.
Let's hope the Nets enjoyed the Paul Pierce Experience, brief as it was. There won't be an encore.