Examining Paul Pierce's Future: Where Will He Play Next Season?

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Examining Paul Pierce's Future: Where Will He Play Next Season?
Uncredited/Associated Press

Paul Pierce has played 16 NBA seasons, but he made it clear after the Brooklyn Nets’ season-ending loss to the Miami Heat Wednesday night that his career was far from over.

“I think I still have something left in the tank I can give a team,” Pierce told reporters in Miami. “Maybe one or two [years] at the most.”

Pierce’s willingness to play beyond this season was just about the only thing he was willing to commit to on Wednesday night, as he dodged questions about his future with the Nets.

The 36-year-old forward will enter this offseason as an unrestricted free agent for the first time since the summer of 2010. He has plenty of options to weigh as he considers where he wants to finish his storied NBA career.

Let’s take a look at some of the possibilities.

 

Brooklyn Nets

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Despite Pierce’s hesitation to talk about re-signing with the Nets this summer, Brooklyn has to be considered a slight favorite to bring back Pierce—at least until we hear about the status of Kevin Garnett for next season.

Pierce and Garnett are great friends, and the small forward was instrumental in convincing Garnett to waive his no-trade clause last summer to allow for the deal to New York. That reality makes it very unlikely that Pierce would desert his friend in Brooklyn if the big man plans on playing one more season. Garnett is under contract with the Nets through next year and will earn $12 million during the 2014-15 season if he suits up.

The NBA world knows retirement is a very real possibility for Garnett after he suffered through an injury-plagued season in which he played a career-low 54 regular-season games. The Big Ticket will turn 38 next week and may not want to run it back with a Nets team that has limited resources to improve itself this offseason.

If Garnett calls it quits, the factors influencing Pierce’s decision could change in a major way. Not only will his friend be gone, but a valuable piece of Brooklyn’s frontcourt will be as well, one that the team will be unable to replace in free agency. In that case, Pierce may believe the Nets as composed do not have a realistic shot at the NBA title and choose to move on.

The other advantage the Nets have in retaining Pierce is his Bird rights. The veteran earned $15.3 million this season, and while he won’t get that kind of money in his next deal, the Nets have the ability to outbid any other team in free agency for Pierce’s services.

If money is what Pierce is ultimately after, he will stay with the Nets, since they will be desperate to retain him. Pierce has earned over $180 million dollars over his career, however, so money might not be a deciding factor for him in his next deal.

My guess is Garnett’s return and winning will take precedence, so a decision by Garnett on his future will be the first and biggest domino to fall when it comes to Pierce’s chances of re-signing in Brooklyn.

 

Boston Celtics

Steven Senne/Associated Press

If Pierce does decide to spurn the Nets, a reunion with the Celtics has to be considered a possibility. The former Boston captain told reporters back in March that he would consider a return to the team with which he played his first 15 NBA seasons.

"Yeah, why not?" Pierce said. "Maybe as a player, maybe as a coach. Who knows what the future holds?"

While a Pierce return to Boston would make for a feel-good story, it takes two sides to tango in free agency, and Danny Ainge isn’t exactly the sentimental type. The Celtics president did not rule out a return entirely in a radio interview last month on WEEI-FM.

“At the right price, right circumstance,” Ainge said of a Pierce return.

League sources told Bleacher Report, however, that they don’t think Pierce is high on the Celtics' priority list this offseason in the midst of a rebuild. If Ainge manages to pull off some “fireworks” this summer and turn the Celtics into a playoff team yet again, I’m sure he would welcome Pierce back at a hometown discount.

That kind of a turnaround is far from a sure thing for a Boston roster that only won 25 games last season. Pierce also may be looking to play for a team with legitimate playoff aspirations, a scenario that’s unlikely for the Celtics next year. The Boston option is a possibility, but it's not a likely one for Pierce, despite the fact he was wearing a Red Sox cap upon leaving Brooklyn's practice facility on Thursday.

 

Los Angeles Clippers/Other Contenders

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Pierce grew up in Inglewood, California, so a return to his childhood home combined with a reunion with former head coach Doc Rivers will surely be on Pierce’s radar this summer.

The Clippers have the championship-level talent that Pierce would crave and a need to upgrade the small forward position. The Clippers would only be able to offer Pierce mid-level money, but a chance to win another ring back home could be an appealing option for the veteran.

Other potential contenders (Chicago, Oklahoma City, Indiana) could throw out mid-level money as well for the services of the small forward, but it seems doubtful that Pierce would want to start over in a brand-new city at this stage of his career.

 

Outlook

Until Garnett makes a decision about his future, it’s tough to handicap where exactly Pierce will land. There will be no shortage of suitors for the small forward on the open market, as Pierce proved this postseason he can still be a valuable complementary piece for any contending team out there.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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