The first, and most substantial, is money. The Clippers have no cap space to offer Pierce, who is an unrestricted free agent. They did have their mid-level exception to use at the beginning of the offseason, but the reported signing of Spencer Hawes by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports changes that:
Free agent Spencer Hawes has reached agreement on a four-year, $23M deal with the Los Angeles Clippers, league sources tell Yahoo.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 4, 2014
After the Hawes deal, it now appears as though Los Angeles has to pony up either a first-round pick or J.J. Redick in its hunt for Pierce:
Unless Clippers are willing to trade JJ Redick or first-round picks to Nets for Paul Pierce, a sign-and-trade is unlikely, sources tell Y— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 5, 2014
As opposed to the Clippers who are now out of resources, the Brooklyn Nets can offer Pierce up to a max contract if they so desired.
That's because Brooklyn owns Pierce's Bird Rights and can exceed the cap as much as they'd like to retain him. They wouldn't do this, you'd think, just because it would result in even more massive luxury-tax payments, but this isn't a franchise that is financially limited when it comes to retaining Pierce.
The only likely option that could satisfy all parties would be a sign-and-trade. Pierce would get a salary that would pay him more than he could get on a capped-out contender (the mid-level exception —MLE—at $5.3 million), the Clippers would reunite him with his former coach, Doc Rivers, and the Nets would get something out of it instead of watching Pierce walk out the door for nothing.
As Ramona Shelburne and Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com reported on July 3, L.A. is actively pursuing this route:
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.
Rivers, the Clippers' president and coach, has had several conversations with Pierce since he became a free agent July 1.
The Clippers have other small forwards to offer Brooklyn in an exchange, such as Jared Dudley, Matt Barnes or Reggie Bullock, but the Nets are a franchise firmly in "win-now" mode and may not be willing to admit that the trade for Pierce and Kevin Garnett that robbed them of future draft picks was a mistake.
Trading Pierce, at this juncture, may not be something Brooklyn is ready to do, especially for the lackluster package the Clippers can offer.
Nets not interested in players Clippers proposing (J Dudley, M Barnes, Reggie Bullock) in sign-&-trade for Paul Pierce, source says— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 3, 2014
It might be a different story if the Clippers had better assets to offer up, but it doesn't seem like trading J.J. Redick or even Jamal Crawford would be a wise decision.
Pierce is still a good player, but he's no longer as productive as either Redick or Crawford, offensively, and more importantly, he's significantly closer to the end of his career, whereas the Clippers current wings each have at least a few solid years with little decline left in them.
Of course, something is better than nothing for the Nets. If Pierce threatens to sign for the MLE with another contender or tells Brooklyn he won't be returning regardless of the salary offered (which seems unlikely), then the Nets will need to either call Pierce's bluff and see if he'll walk or negotiate a trade with the destination he chooses.
"Sources say that the Clippers' pieces aren't enough at the moment for the Nets, should Brooklyn opt to go the sign-and-trade route," Shelburne and Youngmisuk reported. "While nothing is imminent, it's possible a potential trade could expand to more teams as discussions progress."
Getting other teams involved may be the best scenario for both sides, as a third team could potentially offer Brooklyn the backcourt help they need after Shaun Livingston's departure in free agency for the Golden State Warriors.
The third team would need to covet at least one of the Clippers' movable assets, but Reggie Bullock looks like a nice three-and-D prospect, and Barnes is a strong defender that should have appeal across the league.
Here's Seerat Sohi at ClipperBlog.com explaining why Barnes is a great glue guy:
It’s an unglamorous existence, spending your career in the backdrop of a system’s mechanics, but it’s the kind that saves possessions and determines successful execution. Put simply, if Chris Paul is the engine that makes the Clippers go, a player like Barnes is the drivetrain.
That brings on a whole different question. Is Pierce really a substantial upgrade over Barnes at this stage in his career? The Clippers had the league's best offense last year in terms of efficiency, and Barnes was involved in some of the team's best lineups. Pierce has a lot of miles on the odometer at age 36, and even though he's a smart team defender, he's not on the same level as Barnes.
Given the use of the MLE on Hawes, a stretch big man first and foremost, defensive acquisitions should probably be the focus at this stage. Pierce was once a very good defender, but he's limited now.
That said, Pierce could definitely make the Clippers offense even more explosive, and it's clear that Rivers has an affinity for veterans he's familiar with. You feel good about going into a playoff game with Paul Pierce on your side.
In April, Pierce told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News about his flair for the dramatic—more specifically, being clutch.
"Everybody don’t have it," Paul Pierce said. "Everybody is not born with it. You can’t buy it at Costco or Walgreens."
For now, it doesn't appear that the Nets are willing to give up on Pierce so easily for that reason, especially with Kevin Garnett looking like he'll play another year.
Still sensing optimism from Nets that they'll be able to re-sign Paul Pierce, with Clippers seen as team that can pose most serious threat— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 1, 2014
The best bet for Pierce reuniting with Rivers in Los Angeles involves a lot of cooperation.
Where do you think Paul Pierce will play next year?
A third team will need to be included, Pierce will need to convince Brooklyn he's willing to take less salary if need be and the Nets will have to be ready to punt on the Pierce-Garnett trade after just one season.
It's not impossible, but the Hawes signing removes some of the Clippers' leverage in negotiations. Brooklyn knows now that Pierce almost certainly wouldn't sign for the veteran's minimum, so the Nets can be more comfortable in calling his bluff.
Everything will likely need to align just right for the Clippers to make a sign-and-trade for Pierce work, but for right now, it doesn't appear that Brooklyn is ready to play ball quite yet.