NBA@2: Trading Paul Pierce?
When the Boston Celtics made their big play to land Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen they hoped it would make them perennial contenders, and it did just that. In one season they went from a 24-win team to NBA champs, and they had plenty of reason to believe that they might win a couple of more titles before their star core was past its collective prime.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. The Celtics made one more Finals appearance, but there have been no more rings for Garnett, Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, Boston’s star core. Now, with the team off to a 4-8 start and having lost five games in a row, the sharks are starting to circle around the carcass of the former NBA champs.
According to Yahoo!’s Adrian Wojnarowski, contenders have begun calling Celtics GM Danny Ainge to express interest in trading for Paul Pierce, the one member of Boston’s aging core who doesn’t expire as a free agent next summer. Their reasoning is that if Ainge didn’t want to jeopardize cap space by re-signing key free agents Kendrick Perkins and Tony Allen, he might welcome a chance to get out from under the $16.7 million they owe Pierce for next season as well as the non-guaranteed $15.3 for the following year.
As things stand today the Celtics have roughly $34.5 million in committed contracts for next season. Nearly half of that belongs to Pierce. When players like Garnett, Allen and Jermaine O’Neal come off the books the Celtics will go from luxury tax payers to major players in free agency. Of course, neither Dwight Howard nor Deron Williams has any interest in signing with Boston, so the logic of trading Paul Pierce this season is not easy to navigate. Once Howard and Williams are off the list the class or 2012 gets pretty shallow pretty quickly. Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Terry may be the best unrestricted free agent, and his price tag might be more than the Celtics want to pay.
The best time for Boston to have cap space will be the summer of 2013, not 2012. In 2013 they could have a shot at players like Kevin Martin, Andre Iguodala, Josh Smith and Paul Millsap. That’s not a bad pool of talent from which to pick, especially with Rondo locked in as one of the best point guards in the league.
It’s easy enough to see why the Celtics might want to move Paul Pierce this season. The team is going downhill fast, and with teams calling about one of the most expensive players on the team, why not cut some losses?
The “Truth,” however, is that the Celtics are much better off hanging onto Pierce and letting him do for Boston what Deron Williams is doing for New Jersey right now. They should let Pierce be the one to sell potential free agents on coming to Boston, on the idea that with himself as a sixth-man and Rondo as the team’s floor leader the team might just be able to rocket back into the world of NBA contenders in record time.
There might come a time when the Celtics need to consider trading Paul Pierce, but now is not the time. Far better to think about just how good the team might be in 2013, with Pierce and Rondo leading a new cast of star players into the proud Celtics contention tradition.
Up Close: Tyreke Evans
Sacramento Kings star Tyreke Evans talks with HOOPSWORLD about his new head coach, dealing with DeMarcus Cousins, rookie Jimmer Fredette and more in this exclusive interview:
Harden: OKC’s Next Superstar?
Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti has made no secret of his plan for building a contender in Oklahoma City. He’s not going to take the popular approach of trading for multiple superstars; rather, he is going to draft well and count on his coaching staff to develop those draftees into key players for the team. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have already taken that path, and this season it looks like James Harden could be the next star to emerge in OKC.
“James fits our organization and team in a myriad of ways,” Presti tells HOOPSWORLD. “His ability to embrace and progressively excel in any role given to him speaks to his basketball IQ, fiber as a competitor, and continued willingness to be a student of the game.”
That student of the game has taken significant steps forward in each of his three seasons in the NBA. This year he’s giving the Thunder career-best numbers across the board, averaging 16.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game while also shooting career-bests in every area from the three-point line to the foul line and overall.
“I think his improvement dates back to the day we got him,” says Thunder head coach Scott Brooks. “It’s continued through last season and this season the same. He really has a good sense of who he’s playing against, how he can be effective against his opponent – the entire team, not just one player – and he’s a good playmaker. He makes plays for us, which helps us, and also that he shoots the ball so well. You have to guard him at the three-point line and he also has an amazing ability to get to the basket.”
It helps to have a star player who sees his teammates as brothers and becomes their biggest cheerleader. No one is more thrilled with Harden’s success than Thunder MVP Kevin Durant.
“I hope this is his year,” says Durant. “He’s been playing very, very well. A lot of people underrate him a lot, but he’s coming on and giving us another scoring punch, also rebounding the ball. He’s having a great year and hopefully he keeps it up. As a matter of fact, I know he will keep it up because he works hard and I’m just looking forward to the games coming up.”
“James is a great all-around player,” adds Kendrick Perkins. “He doesn’t get enough credit for his defense. He’s obviously a great scorer but he can also pass the ball extremely well. James can also play multiple positions if you really look at it. He can control the point. He can do a lot. I watch James, he works hard and he’s hungry every night. We just need him to keep that fire in him and we’ll be alright.”
There’s already talk of Harden being the NBA’s Sixth Man Of The Year this season, and Thunder reserve Nick Collison points out that Harden is the reason OKC’s second unit is so potent.
“I think he is just a really complete player,” says Collison. “He understands how to play offense in terms of he knows how to break down defense. He makes plays for other guys. He’s great at getting to the line. He’s figured out a lot of tricks to get to the line and to have a guy like that he comes off the bench – he’s not truly a bench player he plays a lot more minutes than most bench guys – but to have him with our second unit it allows our second unit to really be a weapon for us because he creates offense for the rest of us.”
Every championship team needs a great player to come off the bench and spark the second unit. Jason Terry does it for the defending champion Dallas Mavericks and Lamar Odom did it for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Thunder look like serious contenders this season, and Harden could very well be the next All-Star who puts the Thunder in the championship category.
HOOPSWORLD Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys to insure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @jfleminghoops, @TheRocketGuy (Bill Ingram), @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @alexraskinNYC, @TommyBeer, @YannisHW, Susan Bible (@SusanBible) and @DPageHOOPSWORLD (Derek Page).
NBA Chats: NBA Chats: There is one NBA chat on the schedule. Salary cap guru Larry Coon will host his chat starting at 3pm EST. Submit a question for Larry here.You can always find the next NBA Chat here: http://www.hoopsworld.com/upcoming-chats and if you are looking for Previous Chats try here: http://www.hoopsworld.com/previous-chats