Will Head Coaching Be Deciding Factor in Paul Pierce's Free-Agency Decision?

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJuly 4, 2014

BROOKLYN, NY - MAY 12: Paul Pierce #34 of the Brooklyn Nets celebrates in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami Heat during the 2014 NBA Playoffs on May 12, 2014 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Could Paul Pierce rescue the Los Angeles Clippers and their need for an experienced star on the wing?

ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne and Ohm Youngmisuk report that, "The Los Angeles Clippers have engaged in conversations with the Brooklyn Nets to try to construct a sign-and-trade that would reunite small forward Paul Pierce with Doc Rivers, according to sources with knowledge of the situation."

Per Shelburne and Youngmisuk, there's a reason a sign-and-trade is Los Angeles' preferred avenue of acquisition:

And while the Clippers could simply sign Pierce as a free agent using their midlevel exception at $5.3 million, they are interested in pursuing sign-and-trade scenarios that would allow Brooklyn to get something in return for the 10-time All-Star and because the Clippers already have so many small forwards.

The report also notes that, "Rivers, the Clippers' president and coach, has had several conversations with Pierce since he became a free agent July 1."

No surprise there.

The only problem with the whole arrangement is that the Nets just don't seem that interested in playing ball. 

That means Los Angeles may have to consider using that midlevel exception after all.

And it means Rivers will have to put on one heck of a sales pitch.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 12: Head Coach Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers talks with his former Boston Celtics players Kevin Garnett #2 of the Brooklyn Nets and Paul Pierce #34 of the Brooklyn Nets after a game at Barclays Center on December 12, 2013
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

ESPN.com's Marc Stein had earlier reported that the "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."

That chance begins with Rivers being in the driver's seat.

Pierce could almost certainly command more than that $5.3 million on the open market, especially if he's willing to entertain a destination less likely to contend for a title. The Nets, of course, are in position to sign him to the most money even though they're well over the salary cap at the moment, as they hold the forward's Bird rights. If it's money Pierce wants, Los Angeles is out of luck.

Fortunately, there's a good chance the 36-year-old will prioritize winning at this stage of his career. Having already earned $184,819,552 over the course of his 16 seasons, getting back to the NBA Finals reasons to be Pierce's principal objective.

Rivers' job is to convince Pierce that can happen with the Clippers.

It helps that he has Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on his side, along with sharpshooter J.J. Redick and center DeAndre Jordan. That's a core with which few teams—including Brooklyn—can seriously compete. If Pierce can swallow his pride and accept the $5.3 million midlevel exception, Rivers need simply point to his rotation as evidence that Los Angeles is Pierce's best shot to contend.

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 31:  DeAndre Jordan #6 (L) of the Los Angeles Clippers is intercetped by Chris Paul #3, Blake Griffin #32, and head coach Doc Rivers after Jordan got in an altercation with Andrew Bogut #12 of the Golden State Warriors at Staples
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

There are of course other factors in play.

Though Pierce was born and raised in Oakland, he went to high school in Inglewood, so Los Angeles is home to him in at least some sense. He's also very close to Rivers, who coached him with the Boston Celtics. There's familiarity in Los Angeles—more so than in Brooklyn, even accounting for teammate Kevin Garnett's presence. 

The Clippers desperately need someone like Pierce, a skilled, experienced and versatile swingman who would be an immediate upgrade over the likes of Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley. Los Angeles attempted to address that need by signing Danny Granger last season, but Granger's health never held up long enough for him to develop a sustained rhythm.

Pierce would be an immediate fit, asked to do a little of everything but allowed to age gracefully at the same time.

The Clippers don't need Pierce to be a star. They need him to be a stopgap measure—a final piece to a puzzle that's twice reached the conference semifinals in the last three seasons.

Good as this team was under former head coach Vinny Del Negro, it's reached new levels under Rivers.

That won't be lost on Pierce. He knows what they were able to accomplish together in Boston. He knows that Rivers is a leader through-and-through, a top-five coach no matter where he goes. He knows the Clippers—under Rivers—are as well positioned as any team to get past the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference.

It was Rivers' original intent to bring Pierce and Garnett along with him to L.A. In 2013, Bleacher Report's Howard Beck called it, "a unified vision, an ideal," writing:

Rivers would get a roster steeped in young talent, with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the hope of another title run. Garnett and Pierce would come along to aid the transition, to reinforce the coach’s message, to govern the locker room and establish the proper culture.

'He wanted them, absolutely,' said a person who knows Rivers well.

Of course, due to league policy, things didn't work out that way.

Instead, Pierce and Garnett were traded to the Brooklyn Nets as the Celtics moved on to their rebuilding phase in earnest.

"It'd have been easier," Rivers said, according to Beck, "When you have guys that have been with you on other teams and you bring them with you to the new team, yeah, that helps."

So the opportunity to bring Pierce aboard now is something that's been on Rivers' mind for some time, and Pierce surely knows as much.

His former coach's demonstrable loyalty and desire for a reunion could pay off in a big way—more than a midlevel exception ever could. 


Salary-cap information provided by ShamSports.