Is It Time To Trade Paul Pierce?
Boston Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge reloaded this past summer to take one last shot at the Atlantic Division crown and hopefully another crack at the Miami HEAT in the Eastern Conference Finals. So far this season, things haven’t gone exactly as planned. The Celtics, struggling to get back to .500 and maintain their weak hold on the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, now face the rest of this season without All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo. Has the time finally come to surrender and get whatever assets he can for the 35-year-old Paul Pierce?
Pierce only has $5 million guaranteed of next year’s $15.3 million contract which makes him an attractive trade asset. The 10-time All-Star could be a significant addition to a team with title aspirations this season with the added benefit of being able to get out from under his contract next season if things don’t work out.
Despite all the detailed analysis out there about how Pierce’s skills have eroded, the small forward continues to lead the Celtics in scoring by a wide margin at 18.7 points per game and is second in assists with four, rebounds with six and steals with 1.4. His shooting percentages are below his career averages, but Pierce is still shooting a respectable 42.1 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from three-point range. These are hardly the stats of a player on his way out of the league and in his first game after Rondo’s injury, Pierce recorded a triple-double in the win over the HEAT. In the second game, Pierce logged a double-double in a win over Sacramento.
It has been almost 15 years since Pierce was drafted by the Celtics tenth overall in 1998. Pierce has been through the bad times, the mediocre times, more bad times and finally some great seasons after Ainge paired him up with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rondo. The face of the franchise, Pierce has justifiably been seen as a Celtic-for-life and the Celtics have a history of treating their own with respect.
In 1987 Red Auerbach refused to break up his Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish after the Celtics lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals and the team waited 20 years to make their return. That team, however, went on to win three more Division titles. Two years ago Ainge had his own decision to make about the new Big Three and opted to re-up with the 35-year-old Allen and the 32-year-old Pierce after losing to the Lakers in the Finals. Ainge was rewarded for his loyalty with two more Atlantic Division titles and an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals.
However, the Big Three was broken up when Ray Allen took his talents to South Beach this summer. These Celtics are not expected to win another Division title as constructed and the argument for keeping Pierce based on future team success is looking rather weak.
So far all we have heard from the Celtics post-Rondo’s injury is a desire to rally around the remaining players and to rely upon the ample playmaking skills of Pierce, Garnett and the team’s numerous shooting and combo guards. Rally the team has, winning their next two games. However, leading up to the NBA trade deadline, Ainge is working the phones, but is Pierce the obvious candidate to be trying to move?
With a salary of $16.7 million this season, unless some other general manager has sufficient and attractive promising young talent that the Celtics want with salaries that add up close to Pierce’s salary and believes Pierce will want to play for their team, the former All-Star is not going to be the easiest player to trade. It would almost certainly be easier to find trading partners able to work deals around the annual salaries of Jeff Green’s $8.4 million, Brandon Bass’ $6 million, Courtney Lee’s $5 million or Jason Terry’s $5 million.
The Celtics have an opportunity to treat their Celtic-for-life as they have treated previous long serving franchise players as an important part of the organization and not just as another asset to be cashed-in to facilitate the next rebuilding effort. If Pierce’s skills are actually in decline, the team can buy out the remainder of his contract for $5 million and get significantly below the salary cap next summer. If Pierce maintains his productivity and can lead the Celtics into the playoffs, he becomes an expiring deal next season and the Celtics can take another look at trading him versus letting his contract expire then.
There are less than three weeks remaining before the trade deadline and over that time the Celtics play eight games including the Clippers, Lakers (2x), Nuggets (2x) and Bulls. Whether or not the Celtics can hold onto a playoff spot and whether or not Pierce can lead this team in Rondo’s absence should be clear well before the opportunity to make a trade has passed. This team may have lost their opportunity to play the HEAT in the Eastern Conference Finals this season, but a first round playoff series between Boston and Miami could bring all the drama and excitement necessary to make finishing in eighth well worthwhile.
The Celtics owe it to Pierce to at least give him the opportunity to show he can still lead a team under duress and even if it isn’t going to work out, Boston is likely going to find it easier to acquire the promising young players and/or draft picks needed to rebuild by trading players with smaller contracts than the one belonging to Pierce. The time to trade Pierce should wait for another day, perhaps for another season, if at all.