Marc Stein of ESPN.com has the scoop that Paul Pierce has informed the Celtics that he will decline his 21.5 million dollar player option and become an unrestricted free agent. A couple notes from the piece:
Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Pierce has notified the Boston Celtics that he will opt out of the final year of his contract before Wednesday’s deadline to do so, which will make Pierce an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.
By opting out, Pierce will forfeit next season’s $21.5 million salary but becomes eligible to sign a new four-year deal with the Celtics worth a maximum of $96 million and can receive four-year offers from other teams worth a maximum $93 million.
The news should not come as a complete shock to Celtics fans in wake of the new collective bargaining agreement on the horizon next year, this year will likely be Paul’s last chance to score a big payday before NBA salary rules are potentially heavily restructured after next season.
Pierce’s agent Jeff Schwartz has a history of playing hardball with his clients (see Lamar Odom last offseason) so it’s likely he is looking to score a contract for his client in a wide open free agent market, where several teams may have plenty of left over cap room after the top of the free agent crop settles down.
As a Celtics fan, it’s not time to panic entirely right now about the future of Pierce with the Celtics. It’s still entirely possible that Pierce will be back, but the decision is primarily in the Celtics hands now. You would have to think The Truth will be looking for, at minimum, a 3 year deal. With that in mind, it’s important to remember two things:
1) The Celtics have bird rights on Pierce right now, meaning they can sign him for whatever amount they see fit
2) Pierce still has a cap hold in place, meaning him opting out frees up no cap room for the C’s right now. In order to clear Pierce’s cap hold, the C’s would have to renounce Pierce’s rights, something that likely will not happen barring Danny Ainge cleaning house.
For further reference on the unlikeliness of that scenario, be sure to check out Zach Lowe’s excellent explanation of that potential situation from Monday.
Some final thoughts on what this all means for Pierce and the Celtics on the way….