With the team capped out and no concrete trade prospects on the horizon, unlocking its next-step potential demands L.A. be as creative as possible this offseason.
Thank goodness for familiar faces:
Would Paul Pierce help push the Clips over the top?
Before we answer that question, let’s explore how that scenario might unfold.
After one season with the Brooklyn Nets, Pierce’s status as an unrestricted free agent is bound to field him offers aplenty.
But while many teams—including the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers—boast boatloads of cap space, the Clippers wield two things no other suitor can match: Doc Rivers and a legitimate chance at a championship.
In a recent column, Bleacher Report’s Alec Nathan underscored the confluence of circumstances that could put the Pierce-to-L.A. plans into official motion:
Following a rather underwhelming inaugural season with the Brooklyn Nets that saw Pierce average a career-worst 13.5 points on 45.1 percent shooting from the field, a change of scenery would make sense for the unrestricted free agent.
And given the organizational uncertainty that's enveloped the Nets following Kidd's transition to the Milwaukee Bucks, finding comfort in Rivers' system out in his native Los Angeles would seem to be a natural move for a veteran searching to maximize his remaining years in the Association.
Now L.A. just has to figure out how to pay the 10-time All-Star.
As stipulated by the league’s collective bargaining agreement, teams that are over the salary cap have a limited number of cap-cresting exceptions at their disposal. One of which, the mid-level exception (MLE: roughly $5 million), the Clips could indeed offer Pierce.
Another option entails signing Pierce to a veteran’s minimum contract, to which cap-strapped teams have unbridled access. That would allow the Clippers to use the MLE to upgrade at another position (most likely the frontcourt, given their dearth of depth in that department).
Whether Pierce, who made $15.3 million in 2013-14, would accept such an offer is another matter entirely—particularly considering Brooklyn, by way of the CBA’s Bird Rights provision, can offer him anything up to a maximum contract.
Pierce has yet to give any indication on this front one way or the other. But if anyone can convince him that taking a pay cut is well worth the ring’s reward, it’s the guy who helped get him his first one.
The other option—perhaps more likely—involves the Clippers agreeing to a sign-and-trade with the Nets, wherein L.A. would send Matt Barnes and one or two players with cheap contracts (or possibly a future draft pick if that haul isn't enticing enough) to Brooklyn in exchange for Pierce.
In Barnes, the Nets would be getting a valuable two-way player who could fit well in what is sure to be a defense-first philosophy under new head coach Lionel Hollins. Should Barnes not work out, Brooklyn can decline his $3.5 million player option next summer.
Let’s assume, for sake of argument, that one of these scenarios comes to pass—either Pierce accepts the veteran minimum salary or MLE, or the Clippers find a way to reel him in at a slightly higher price by way of a sign-and-trade.
A Fine Fit Indeed
As they’re currently constructed, the Clippers are reasonably similar, in both form and function, to the 2008 Boston Celtics. Both featured heady, two-way point guards (Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo), shooting guards who work best coming off screens (Ray Allen and J.J. Redick), elite power forwards (Kevin Garnett and Blake Griffin) and serviceable, sturdy, defense-oriented centers (Kendrick Perkins and DeAndre Jordan).
But while Barnes was certainly serviceable, it’s no question Pierce would be a significant upgrade—both in terms of chemistry and offensive productivity.
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At 36 years old, Pierce’s best basketball days are well behind him. Still, never has he had so little in the way of responsibility as he would with these Clippers, built as they are around Paul’s paint-probing brilliance and Griffin’s ever-bourgeoning offensive arsenal.
According to stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com, last season Pierce attempted a whopping 42 percent of his shots from three-point range. That’s a full 7 percent higher than his previous high (35 percent, set the year before with the Celtics).
Moreover, Pierce’s 2013-14 three-point clip—37 percent—was right at his career average. Barnes, by comparison, shot just 34 percent from downtown during his three seasons with the Clippers.
Couple that with the sizable disparity in career assist percentage between the two (Pierce: 19 percent; Barnes: 12 percent), you get a pretty clear sense of just how fantastic of a fit he might be.
By all accounts, L.A.’s current core isn’t at risk for any immediate drop in productivity, be it by age or injury. However, judging by his gangbusters production last season, Griffin in particular could have yet another gear in front of him.
That, combined with Pierce at the 3, makes L.A. an instant threat to come out of the West next June.
History isn’t exactly ripe with instances of first-ballot Hall of Famers taking massive pay cuts to end up on a new team.
Then again, the Clippers offer Pierce a pair of perks you just don’t find every day: a chance to rejoin the coach with whom his NBA journey is so inextricably intertwined and—if all breaks right—double his ring count.
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