If there’s one thing that can finally put a rebuilding sign on the Boston Celtics is letting go of Paul Pierce, and it seems that the day for the 10-time All-Star to play for another team for the first time in his NBA career is coming and fast.
It’s all about the money for the Celtics, but it’s also about giving Pierce a chance to play for a contender in the final few seasons of his career. He’s owed $15.3 million for next season which is a player option, but the Celtics can release him before June 30 and pretty much buy him out for $5 million, which is guaranteed on any release.
Releasing Pierce means losing Kevin Garnett as well. Garnett has expressed his desire to continue and play next to Pierce for the Celtics, although Boston survey their squad and their contract situation, and don’t see a chance of doing something significant, even with Rajon Rondo, next season. In that case, if Pierce is released, Garnett might be traded if he’ll finally allow Boston to remove his no-trade clause.
It’s going to be weird to see Pierce playing for another team, if it does actually happen after 15 years with the Celtics. He became the team’s star right away, leading them to a few playoff appearances before seeing the talent around him waste away and the Celtics becoming one of the worst teams in the league. In 2007, Garnett and Allen arrived, creating the ‘Big Three’ next to Pierce, while Rajon Rondo emerged as a fantastic point guard.
They won the NBA title in 2008 and reached the final again in 2010. While Pierce did lower his scoring from around 25 points per game to 18-19 during the big three era, he’s remained quite stable in his production over the last six years, averaging 18.6 points per game at the age of 35.
As for Pierce’s next team, if he does become avaialbe? Pretty much any team with some cap space is going to want to have a look, but it’s unreasonable to think Pierce is not going to first look at contending teams with the money to pay him. The San Antonio Spurs have only $41 million listed for next season, although they have Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal and Dejuan Blair to consider. Surely Pierce can come in the place of someone, as long as his demands are reasonable.
In terms of other contenders? Only if Pierce takes a significantly lower contract he’ll be able to find his way into one of these teams. A minimum contract? Hard to imagine, but you never know what veterans, even if still quite capable, are willing to do for that one last chance at an NBA title. The Celtics aren’t going to be in the NBA playoffs next season more likely than not, so abandoning ship while helping your team out isn’t such a bad way to say goodbye.