Best Potential Free-Agent Landing Spots for Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce is in a complicated free-agency situation, and not just because his former coach, Jason Kidd, with whom he shares an agent, just skipped town after a spectacularly unsuccessful power grab.
Although, obviously, that wacky turn of events didn't make his plight any simpler.
Heading into his 17th NBA season, Pierce must weigh the options on what will likely be the final contract of his fantastic career. At 36, here's the truth: The Truth is running out of time.
Fortunately, he's got enough skill left to intrigue a handful of suitors, many of whom probably prize his value as a veteran leader even more than his on-court production.
Per ESPN's Marc Stein, the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers have all put in calls to Pierce since free agency began at midnight on July 1. You'll note every one of those teams is a playoff-caliber squad, which serves as an indicator that the market knows Pierce only cares about winning at this stage of his career.
Non-contenders need not apply.
Pierce deserves to go out on top or, at the very least, with a good team that will appreciate everything he brings to an organization.
In situations like this, you can never discount the power of the status quo—even when the idea of returning to the Nets might seem like the worst of Pierce's available options.
Still, Pierce might believe he's got unfinished business in Brooklyn. When he and Kevin Garnett came over to the Nets in a trade last summer, they arrived amid expectations of championship contention. And while the Nets' second-half surge and respectable postseason showing provided optimism, they didn't measure up to the lofty goals established before the campaign began.
"We know where we want to go, what we want to do. I think when we went through this trade, we talked about it being a two-year window. So this is the second year of the window," Nets general manager Billy King told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com.
Granted, the Kidd fiasco might make certain relationships (namely the one between Pierce and Kidd's shared agent and the Nets) difficult to maintain. But the East, on balance, still provides the easiest road to the Finals, and Pierce might also feel compelled to saddle up for one last ride with Kevin Garnett—assuming the Big Ticket doesn't retire.
Objectively, the Nets aren't the best destination for Pierce. But they do have his Bird Rights, which will allow them to pay him more than any other team can. And from an emotional perspective, there's a good chance Pierce will want to finish what he started last season.
Pierce just feels like a player who should have been on the Bulls at some point, doesn't he?
His blue-collar, workmanlike game and inborn competitive spirit belong in Chicago, under a coach in Tom Thibodeau who prizes those qualities above all others.
An exceedingly intelligent player, Pierce is already familiar with Thibs' scheme (and demanding personality) from his days with the Boston Celtics. The adjustment period would be nonexistent.
And if a less-obstructed path to the Finals is a goal, the Bulls are an even better destination than the Nets were. Remember, we're only a couple of years removed from a time when the Bulls—with Derrick Rose leading the same basic core—were the East's top seed.
You'd have to assume that Pierce's arrival would mean the Bulls had missed out on Carmelo Anthony in free agency, which might make him seem like something of a consolation prize. But for a team that could very easily find itself on the fringes of real championship contention next season, you could make the argument that Pierce provides the kind of experience and leadership that Melo couldn't.
Pierce landing in Dallas would represent yet another typical Mavericks move.
They love their undervalued vets, don't they?
If we assume he'd sign for the mid-level exception of approximately $5.5 million, Pierce could replace almost everything free agents Vince Carter and Shawn Marion provided last year—at a fraction of the combined cost.
And if nothing else, he could fill the void of past-prime-but-still-useful wings Dallas might have if both Carter and Marion don't return to the team.
Putting Pierce on the floor with Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler and Monta Ellis sounds awfully good in theory, especially because Pierce's skills as a facilitator and ball-handler could reduce the need to rely on Raymond Felton (shudder).
From top to bottom, the Mavs are a first-class organization, and they gave the San Antonio Spurs a better run than anyone else in last year's playoffs. That'll be appealing to Pierce, and it should help temper some of the hesitation he might feel about coming to the tougher West.
Admittedly, Dallas feels like a long shot. But it offers more creature comforts than any other organization, has a professional atmosphere Pierce would embrace and possesses a top-down commitment to chasing titles.
It's hard to do better than that.
The idea of putting a real, proven leader on Houston's roster should appeal to every executive and coach in the organization.
Pierce could give the team the maturity and experience it sorely lacks. And while there might not be a person on earth who could get James Harden to play defense or Dwight Howard to stop demanding post touches, Pierce is the kind of authority figure both of those players would have to respect.
Plus, Pierce can play the stretch 4, something he proved last year in Brooklyn's unusual hybrid lineups. If the Rockets lose Chandler Parsons this summer to another team's hefty offer sheet, Pierce could also slot in at the small forward spot and easily replace all of Parsons' production.
Think that's a stretch?
Consider this: Pierce bested Parsons in player efficiency rating, points and rebounds per 36 minutes and three-point field-goal percentage last year, according to Basketball-Reference.
Though his career trajectory is heading down while Parsons' is climbing, it's still not crazy to say Pierce will be the better player next season.
Pierce is exactly what this team needs if it can't land Anthony, and he'd get a good shot at a ring if the Rockets make a couple of smaller additions to add depth.
Los Angeles Clippers
This is how it has to end.
Pierce, reunited with Doc Rivers, playing on the wing as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin wreak havoc in the pick-and-roll, adding that necessary infusion of championship experience to a roster desperate to reach the promised land.
It's a perfect ending.
And a feasible one, according to the Clips themselves, per a tweet from Marc Stein of ESPN:
"Clippers, I'm told, believe they have real chance of stealing Paul Pierce away from Nets now that Jason Kidd no longer coaching in Brooklyn."
Pierce is a California native, and though he grew up rooting for the Los Angeles Lakers, he'd be crazy to sign on with the Purple and Gold for his ceremonial final lap around the NBA. The Clippers are the better team (mainly because they have more than three players currently under contract), and the appeal of Rivers is difficult to discount.
If not for rules forbidding trades that feature both coaches and players, there's a good chance Pierce would have been a Clipper last season. Now, there's nothing standing in the way of him following Doc to Los Angeles.
Everybody gets what they want in this exchange—assuming, of course, Pierce is prepared to take a pay cut to make this dream scenario a reality.