The Paul Pierce Conundrum

In the 2013 Offseason, the Nets came off a 49-33 season and round 1 playoff loss, with a roster that had no financial flexibility through 2016.  Management could have decided that such a roster should not be made more expensive: let’s stay the course with this expensive team. It could have decided “we’re not on course to win a title despite being so expensive, let’s rebuild.”

 

Here’s the thing: the Nets made NEITHER choice. The Nets decided that they could turn a good team into a great team, by dealing three first round draft picks for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry.  I repeat: the Nets dealt 3 cost controlled first round picks, two of which are owed $0 next season (2016/2018 picks), for the rights to 2 players in their mid thirties who make 8 figures, and a third player in his mid thirties.

 

That is clearly a move in which you have decided to go All In.  The tag line for the season was we’re in.

 

All of that brings me to a few thoughts, as rumors swirl concerning the Clippers and Paul Pierce.

 

I. The Roster at this Moment: What are the Nets getting on this Market?

 

The salary cap is $67 million. A team over the cap has nothing to spend on outside free agents except cap exceptions. A team that uses the midlevel exception (around $5 million) is hard capped at $81 million. A team that uses the mini midlevel (around $3.3 million) can spend beyond that. The Nets owe $88,524,090 to 9 players: that drops to $76,524,090 and 8 players if KG Retires: Deron, Joe, Kirilenko, KG, Brook, Mirza, Thornton, Plumlee, Teague.  Minimum salary adds take up $915,243 in cap space: $915,243 x 6 is about $5.5 million in minimum deals.

 

Translation: the Nets can spend $3.3 million/year on one non Net – including Bogdanovic, and can only pay the minimum to other non Nets.

 

Now, with that, let’s take a look at some of the deals struck on this market.

Jodie Meeks got $6 million.

Darren Collison and Chris Kaman got $5 million.

CJ Miles and Ben Gordon got $4.5 million.

Thabo Sefolosha got $4 million.

 

That’s not every signing but the point is clear: $3.3 million is not buying the Nets much on this market.  Period.  People need to let go of the idea that a player of Paul Pierce’s caliber is replaceable with $3.3 million, when the market clearly shows what level of player is available at that price: players even lesser than the men above. There is simply no way the Nets sign a free agent better than Pierce, I guess, unless Bojan Bogdanovic is better than Pierce in his rookie year. Given Pierce’s value last year and Bojan’s NBA resume of 0 games, it’s hard to bank on that.  And even if you do bank on that, keeping Pierce would not swallow the Nets midlevel exception. The exception does not obtain a replacement for Pierce by definition, as it’s available whether he stays for $40 million, or walks for nothing.

 

II. Who Uncorked the Narrative That the Nets need to Save Money Now?

 

Someone needs to explain this one to me. Put your thinking cap on.  The Nets had three first round picks at their disposal last summer. First rounders make between $1.1 and $5.5 million per as rookies, with slight escalations, remaining that cheap for about three-four years. The Nets traded players that young, players that cheap, for three players in their mid thirties who made about $32 million combined last year.  They deliberately made themselves older and more expensive, in the belief that was a smart course to take to get closer to contention: and I agreed with them!

 

Yet in spite of that, some are floating the idea – it has not come from the Nets directly but the idea is just hanging around in cyberspace – that the Nets should trade Pierce as a means of getting younger.  To which my response is simple: WHAT?!

 

If the goal was to stay younger, stay cheaper, you don’t do the deal for Pierce and Garnett in the first place: as the deal makes you distinctly older and more expensive.   The Nets required KG exercise his option for 2015 as part of the deal, and did it knowing that to retain the pieces for over 1 year that they would have to pay Pierce this summer.  But the goal is to get younger? That’s so obviously not the case. And it leads to one of several possible conclusions:

 

1: the conjencture out there is simply inaccurate, misrepresentative of the Nets actual intentions.

2: the Nets are hopeful this is something the fan base will buy into, believing that we all think so short term, with the inability to evaluate the long term or evaluate context, that we can’t see through this.

3: the Nets actually have made this decision. Were that the case, it would show that they lack a plan, lack any sort of direction or actual vision with their moves.

 

I do not believe option 3 is the correct choice here, and certainly hope it is not.  My bet would be on option 1, with a hedge on option 2.

 

III. It’s Not the Time to be cheap with Paul Pierce.

 

The Nets knew they could not lose Gerald Wallace after dealing their 2012 pick for him: so they paid up. They knew they needed a piece Deron would respect: so they assumed Joe Johnson’s mammoth deal. They knew they needed Deron pack: they outbid the Mavericks by $30 million rather than play the market. THEY added Kevin to the Paul deal: so much for the goal of frugality.

 

And yet, NOW is the time? When they must keep Pierce because there is no suitable option out there to retain him, NOW is suddenly the time to stand on principle and keep him?  I get that at some point the Nets cannot do this forever, but choosing to play hardball now, when they risk losing Pierce and getting nothing back for him, is not the time.

 

People want to feel wanted.  They want to feel like they are a priority.  The Nets have the ability to pay Pierce, really whatever they want.  Are they really going to offer him a reported $6-$8 million on the market I described above: the market where Jodie Meeks got $6 million? Make a handsome offer. If he rejects, because his heart’s not here? I guess there’s nothing you can do, and you move on.  But do not let the reason he leaves be, in any way, that the lynchpin of your offseason felt slighted by your offers.

 

IV. There is No Trade Out there That the Nets win, in all likelihood

 

Paul Pierce will be 37 to start the season.  Nobody is going to deal for him what the Nets did. And nobody is going to deal the Nets a better player than Paul Pierce.

 

V. The Clippers: What to Make of the Rumors?

 

First things first, let’s make this clear: As an unrestricted free agent, Pierce can sign anywhere. He can sign into cap space, or to a team over the cap into an exception. The Nets cannot match the offer, or stop the process. So if Pierce wants out, he is not going to be a Net next year.

 

So what could be happening with all the Clipper rumors.

 

I. Pierce wants to be there, so this was initiated by the Clippers

 

Given some of the reports, this could be a possibility.  Billy and Jeff unable to agree on a number, Doc talking to Paul, and trade rumors.  The Clippers leverage: Paul can sign here outright so you have to deal with us. The catch? Given the Hawes signing, unless Hawes is sign and traded to the Clips, which requires they convey Crawford or Dudley, or Barnes + Bullock, and that the Cavs accept this offer, Hawes occupies the Clippers midlevel exception: their leverage on Pierce. Without it, Pierce cannot walk there.

 

Which makes this all interesting: given Cleveland’s resistance towards taking salary and goal of cutting it, why would they do a sign and trade with the Clippers to send them Hawes, and assume Clipper salary?

 

II. The Nets are Driving This

 

Perhaps the Nets think that this will be smart.  Perhaps they believe Doc will overpay for Paul given his admiration of him.  But do we really want a high usage low efficiency streak shooter in Crawford for a bedrock of our roster?  Are you seriously telling me the Nets dealt a first round pick to have Pierce for a season – all that talk of leadership – to deal him for Jamal Crawford? Especially when Crawford wants an extension – how does that reconcile with “getting cheaper.”

 

There’s also talk of getting JJ Redick in a deal. Would Doc pay that much for Pierce? If he does, of course that’s probably the best Brooklyn can do.  But again, Pierce was such a key cog to this roster.  His plus minus and the net rating data was excellent. He scores, he played the 4 which opened our success up.  Redick is much better than many believe but still is not as good as Paul right now.

 

Some will say Redick will have a longer future than Paul. But the Nets plan on reconstructing in 2016: at that point Paul will be gone, and while Redick is useful, cap space may be more valuable than his $7.4 million especially considering the goal of pitching players like Kevin Durant on creating a star laden Brooklyn roster.  So in reality, their respective values beyond 2016 is not a huge factor here.  What will help the Nets most in their 2016 pitch is the state of the roster: Paul will produce more wins from now until then than will JJ, and keeping him will show an air of credibility that would be helpful to showcase to stars.

 

So given the Clips pursuit of Hawes which could hurt their Paul acquisition ability, and the leaks of what the Nets want in a deal, it is possible this is Nets initiated: but I do not support it.

 

III. It’s Fueled by Jeff Schwartz as a leverage play

 

Billy King has played hardball with Pierce.  There are reports of hoping he takes $6-8 million due to Nets salary issues: those could easily be Net related leaks to pressure Paul into a deal.  So how does Pierce counter?  His agent leaks that seven teams are interested (yes, this is a sourced report from Marc Stein who is excellent. The source is clearly some human being.  I am hypothesizing that the source could be Schwartz).

 

As for the Clipper rumors? What better leverage play from Schwartz. My man is going to go play for his old coach … unless you pony up.  Billy went public with the fact that the sides have distinct numbers in mind. All of this could easily be Schwartz leaking proposals with the Clips to the media to get Billy to pony up, and Billy countering with satisfactory proposals that would result in his not ponying up. There’s a reason so many sourced reporters — even of the best reporters — do not turn out to be accurate.  Much information is leaked to the media by teams and agents — that’s how the media reports information to you — and by design, that information varies in its level of truth.

 

My point in all of this: NOBODY can say with definitive certainty what Pierce intends to do.  If you’re reading this or discussing this with me, you probably are not Paul Pierce or Jeff Schwartz.  Therefore, you are not 100% sure what is happening and what will happen.  Some sourced reports, and some tea leaves, tend to indicate one thing, some tend to indicate something else.  We simply will not have an answer until we have an answer.

 

IV. Stop Arguing That the Nets Need to Get Something Back If Paul is Gone

 

There is no bigger strawman in all of this than saying the Nets need something back for Pierce if he wants to leave: everyone agrees, and therefore arguing against the nonexistent position that we should let him walk is a strawman.

 

The argument I have made is the following: the Nets SHOULD want Pierce back, because the alternative is worse. And the Nets made deals and transactions demonstrating a commitment to Pierce and spending and gaining veteran leadership, so to argue they should let him go as a means of saving money and getting younger is wholly flawed. (I made those arguments in more length above).

 

V. The Rest of the Offseason: a Paul Pierce sized Holding Pattern

 

While the Nets have much work to do, and reportedly hope to make some roster changes, Pierce is clearly the holdup on a lot of what they do. They may keep him, or acquire a player for him who plays a different position.  How to use the mini midlevel of $3.3 million.  If Paul leaves is it Bogdanovic? Does that change if Paul stays? Is it someone else who Paul impacts? Does this impact the Jack trade? Do they trade Thornton for a forward instead of Paul leaves?  Paul is the Nets’ biggest domino, holding up the Nets’ other transactions, as barring a Deron Brook or Joe trade, the rest of their moves will focus on lesser players than Paul.

 

 

 

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