There has been a lot of talk recently about the marquee free agents this offseason and which teams will actually be in the running for their services. Unfortunately for the Celtics, it IS possible for them to score one of the famed “max-contract” guys. Unfortunate because this ability, while still possible, is a mere pipe-dream that gains more traction by the day given the two caveats inching towards reality:
1) Paul Pierce must opt out.
2) Rasheed Wallace must retire and accept a subsequent buyout.
All the news on the Paul Pierce front is quiet right now but all the speculation points to opting out being the smart business move for Pierce. Over the weekend, Chris Mannix wrote that given the amount of teams that are going to miss out on the bigger names this offseason, those teams might be looking at guys like Pierce to prevent going home empty-handed. Here’s Mannix:
There could be another member of the Big Three on the market, too. Pierce has a player option for $21.5 million next season. But with the collective bargaining agreement set to expire next summer and a new one expected to significantly reduce player salaries, several prominent players (including Dirk Nowitzki and Amar’e Stoudemire) are planning to opt out of lucrative contracts in order to sign new deals under the existing agreement. Pierce, 32, could leave the $21.5 million on the table with the expectation that he could score a contract worth $50 million to $60 million in the offseason.
I believe teams are going to think that’s a lot of Green for a guy in his thirties, especially a guy whose game doesn’t measure up to some of the other big free agents on the Flashiness Scale and the Pizazz-O-Meter. Still, the guy has been to the NBA Finals two out of the last 3 years. He must be doing something right and I think GMs know this and know that this can win over some of the more nonplussed fans.
If Pierce does opt out, the Celtics are immediately under the cap by about 12-to-13 million dollars whether or not they have plans to resign him. 12-to-13 million dollars isn’t enough to offer a max contract unless there is some funky math involved (steeper escalations per year than usual) and I doubt either party would agree to that. The Celtics don’t want to commit all of their cap room to just one Free Agent they don’t already have the rights to and the max player won’t want to be paid like a sub-max player in the first year of his contract.
Here is where step two comes into play.
Rasheed Wallace retires and then agrees to a buyout. According to the Larry Coon Bible, if Rasheed agrees to a contract buyout of 6 million dollars, it will be proportionally divided up between this year and next based on his current contract. In other words, roughly 3 million will count towards the cap this year and roughly 3 million will count towards the cap next year.
Right now the Celtics have roughly 63.3 million dollars in player salaries for next season. If Paul Pierce opts out, you can subtract 21.5 million off that number, making it 41.8 million. Next up, take Rasheed’s 6.3 million and turn it into 3 million and the final number is 38.5 million. The last projected NBA Salary Cap for the 2010-2011 season is 56.1 million which would give the Celtics 17.6 million dollars to offer to free agents to which they don’t have rights. Depending on the tenure of the player, the maximum salary for players next year will pretty much be either 14 million or 16.8 million. The Celtics would have enough room to sign either, but committing all that money to one player may not be in their best interest.
The questions that remain include: is a maximum player worth giving up one of the greatest Celtics ever in Paul Pierce? If the Celtics do sign a max player, does Paul Pierce take the mid-level exception to play with such a stacked team? Along the same “stacked team” theme, do other veteran free agents take huge pay cuts to have a chance to get a ring? Is an aging Big Three and a young superstar-in-the making enough to lure a top name to the Green?
Right now, all of this is just meaningless speculation. After all, Paul Pierce could opt in and decide to keep the 21.5 million that’s coming to him. Wallace could also take a long time to decide if he’s really retiring and even have a change of heart. Since some were wondering, I decided to explain that while the possibility is there, the probability is near-nonexistent.