Well, frankly, the majority of teams around the league are merely waiting for top prizes—LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony—to choose their destinations. Once those dominoes fall, the less sought-after free agents will follow suit.
As Bleacher Report NBA Leader Writer Josh Martin wrote:
Meetings have been taken and rounds have been made, but so far most of the marquee names in free agency are still either mulling their options or waiting for said options to materialize.
If only because everyone’s waiting with bated breath to see what LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony do.
Pierce is among the big names that fit into the narrative, as Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix tweeted:
Pierce, like most free agents, is waiting until the LeBron/Melo/Bosh dust settles to see if more cash frees up around the league.— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) July 7, 2014
“The Truth” is an interesting case study, because he’s reportedly seeking an annual salary that rivals some of the league’s best young players.
Paul Pierce's representatives have told teams Pierce is seeking a two-year contract in the $9-10 million per year range, per sources.— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) July 7, 2014
The $9-10 million per year range would put Pierce in the realm of Toronto Raptors All-Star swingman DeMar DeRozan and Golden State Warriors All-Star point guard Stephen Curry, from a financial standpoint.
The 24-year-old out of USC signed a four-year extension with Toronto in 2012, which pays him an annual salary of $9.5 million (excluding incentives), per ShamSports.
Curry’s deal with the Dubs gradually climbs in value, but he made approximately $9.9 million last season and is set to haul in about $10.6 million during 2014-15.
Is the soon-to-be 37-year-old Pierce worth that price tag?
Perhaps more importantly, can contenders like the Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets or Doc Rivers’ Los Angeles Clippers logically be in the running, or will another suitor have to enter the fray?
Given Pierce’s age and diminishing athletic ability, it’s fair to say general managers around the league would be apprehensive to meet his financial demands.
With that said, Spencer Hawes took a pay cut to sign with the Clippers on a four-year, $23 million deal, per Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski.
Former Clipper Darren Collison—who is set to suit up for his fifth team in six seasons—inked a three-year, $16 million deal with the Sacramento Kings, per USA Today's Sam Amick.
Even former Los Angeles Lakers big man Chris Kaman—who rarely received playing time under head coach Mike D’Antoni—locked down a two-year, $9.8 million deal to join the Portland Trail Blazers, per Amick.
Is Paul Pierce worth $9-10 million per year?
Essentially, it's difficult to gauge what the market is going to be on a case-to-case basis.
Even at an advanced age, Pierce has a wider array of skills when compared to Hawes, Collison or Kaman.
Although his points per game dipped quite a bit (13.5 compared to 18.6 with the Boston Celtics), he managed to shoot 45.1 percent from the floor and 37.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Additionally, the wily vet reinvented himself midway through the campaign as a small-ball 4 when Brook Lopez was sidelined with injury. Head coach Jason Kidd experimented with Pierce at the power forward spot, and he thrived by attacking mismatches on offense and displaying an ability to guard bigger guys on the block.
According to 82games.com, Pierce notched a player efficiency rating of 20.7 per 48 minutes while playing power forward. His PER at small forward was 14.4.
Pierce made adjustments to play to his strengths and had yet another productive year during 2013-14. Whether he can make double the salaries of those aforementioned guys is yet to be decided.
Not for That Price
Assuming that Pierce’s asking price is $9-10 million per season, as Mannix reported, a couple of teams may instantaneously have to cut their losses.
The Clippers, for instance, already paid Hawes the mid-level exception.
Rivers would either have to convince his former captain on the Celtics to take an astronomical pay cut or orchestrate a complicated sign-and-trade with another franchise.
Pat Riley’s Heat, meanwhile, have entered desperation mode. LBJ is still in limbo, but Miami has made an effort to add complementary pieces around him by signing Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger.
ESPN has learned that McRoberts will receive Heat's full midlevel for the next four years ($23 million) with a player option after Year 3— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 7, 2014
Free agent Danny Granger has agreed to a two-year, $4.2 million deal with the Miami Heat, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 7, 2014
The Heat are going to leave cap space open for the Big Three to return, so it’s safe to say Pierce won’t be chasing a ring down in South Beach (if he was interested in scorning Kevin Garnett the same way Ray Allen did, anyway).
Teams with cap space to burn (more than $25 million) include the Orlando Magic, Lakers, Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns, according to Spotrac.com.
Right off the bat we can eliminate Orlando, Philly and Utah from the Pierce conversation. Unless Pierce is only concerned with making the most money—and inexplicably gets a lofty offer from one of those three rebuilding organizations—he’ll shoot for a happy medium: money and winning.
The Nets—who are way over the luxury-tax threshold and reportedly lost $144 million last season, per Grantland.com's Zach Lowe—could opt to retain Pierce even though their cap situation is a complete nightmare. Money is no object for Mikhail Prokhorov.
Aside from Brooklyn, that leaves the Lakers, Mavs and Suns as suitors with actual cap room.
Lakerland reportedly moved into serious contention to land Melo after the superstar forward met with L.A., per Grantland’s Bill Simmons. Pairing his scoring prowess with Kobe Bryant would be captivating.
Where will Paul Pierce wind up?
If that doesn’t come to fruition, the Lakers could move forward by targeting Pierce.
That definitely qualifies as a long shot, though. Pierce’s loyalty to the Celtics organization would likely keep him away from the rival Lakers. Also, general manager Mitch Kupchak doesn’t need to make the roster older than it is already.
The Suns are an interesting dark-horse option. If they miss out on the seemingly league-wide pursuit of LeBron and/or Melo, adding a veteran presence for a young, upstart roster isn’t a bad idea.
Still, GM Ryan McDonough could simply bring back defensive-minded forward P.J. Tucker instead. His defense is far superior to that of an aging Pierce, plus he’ll likely be cheaper and added a weapon to his repertoire by knocking down the corner three with regularity.
That leaves Dallas, which has seemed to come to the forefront as a contender with money that will likely miss out on other options.
As ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon wrote:
After all, the Mavs have a glaring need at small forward and a great recent track record with aging former All-Stars such as Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, in part due to their outstanding medical team and Mark Cuban’s commitment to being on the cutting edge of sports science.
When the Mavs came away victorious in the 2011 NBA Finals, they didn’t have a clear-cut No. 2 option beside Dirk Nowitzki.
Instead, head coach Rick Carlisle put aging veterans like Kidd, Marion, Jason Terry, Caron Butler and Peja Stojakovic in positions to maximize their talents. The results were all you could ask for.
Every team set to contend for a playoff berth next season should give Pierce a look—regardless of the contract he desires. He may very well wind up settling for a salary lower than what he wants.
If a contender manages to ink him to a reasonable mark for both sides, it’ll be a team to watch next season.
Look for the Mavericks to swoop in and continue the trend of adding veterans who can still contribute at a high level. The collective tandem of Pierce and Nowitzki would be out to prove they still have plenty left in the tank.