It’s not often you will see a 32 year old veteran walk away from 21.5 million dollars. Yet, that was exactly what the beloved Paul Pierce informed the Celtics he was doing last night, positioning himself to be a potential player for this year’s free agent bonanza, starting tomorrow.
At first glance, this looks to be a bit of a risk by Pierce to leave that much money on the table, in hopes of scoring a bigger, long term deal. The closer you look though at this decision, the more sense it makes that the Pierce camp wanted to strike while the iron is hot. So without further ado, let’s take a look at five reasons why Pierce isn’t really “rolling the dice” here by declining his option.
1) The Collective Bargaining Agreement Expires After Next Season
It can’t be overstated just how important this factor is. When you turn down a guaranteed 21 million dollars in the latter stages of your career, you better have a good reason to do it. This qualifies. To set the stage for the next year, let’s take a look at the current NBA climate. You see, plenty of owners have been losing money on their teams in a down economy these last few years, while handing out monstrous contracts to many NBA stars in the process.
Therefore next year, there’s going to be plenty of jockeying for a new CBA by the owners and they are going to want big changes, specifically with salary structures that help them get their teams out of the red. The “max” and long term deals these owners have been handing out are almost guaranteed to be reduced in design, to more economically feasible amounts.
Obviously this will be a sharp point of contention during negotiations and the players will fight to hold onto their current arrangement, but the truth is the owners will be holding a lot of the cards here.
So why does this matter to Pierce’s decision now? Well, if and when the league comes up with a new CBA, chances are very high he wouldn’t be eligible to make as much money under new salary structure agreements. For example, say he’s looking for 14-15 million dollars/year in his new contract, well that, in theory might be a max salary in the new CBA and guess what? A 33 year old Paul Pierce isn’t getting a max contract type money in a long term deal in that climate.
Under the current CBA, Pierce is almost guaranteed to get more favorable terms, so why wouldn’t you try to lock up that long term deal now?
2) Paul Pierce had a pretty damn good season last year
I’ve read in a lot of places that Pierce is nuts to turn down that option since he’s “on the decline” in his career. While there is no doubt he is past his prime, The Truth is still easily one of the best small forwards in the league. In fact, last year he set career highs for both FG Percentage (47.2%), 3 pt FG Percentage (41.4%) and FT Shooting (85.2%). That’s not something you generally do in the downslope of your career.
You also have to consider that Pierce put up those numbers, despite playing through all kinds of various ailments throughout the season. An infected knee, a sprained foot, bad shoulder, thumb fracture, Pierce put up career bests despite playing through it all.
Did those injuries affect him? You bet they did, Pierce admitted he played in several games he had no business suiting up for with those ailments, and they in turn caused a major hit in his number. Still, it’s rather impressive that despite this, Pierce still put up career highs in those shooting categories.
That’s not to say Pierce’s durability is not a concern at this stage of his career. His rebounding numbers were down as well, but got a major spike in the postseason when Pierce was healthy to 6.0/game.
Pierce also delivered a fantastic all around averages during the C’s postseason run of 18-6-3 despite laboring 39 minutes/game, while shooting 43 percent from the field and 39 percent from deep. Those are numbers any team would take.
All things considered, Pierce’s agent Jeff Schwartz will have a lot of good numbers to point to when he heads to the negotiating table for Number 34. Make no mistake folks, Pierce’s overall game may be on the decline, but the numbers say otherwise, so why wouldn’t he try to position himself for a long term deal after that?
3) Negotiating Leverage
The Truth, almost assuredly wants to say a Celtic for the rest of his career if he can. He’s admitted such in the past couple years. So say, he wanted an extension this offseason! Great! He goes to Ainge to try to negotiate. If Pierce opted in to his 21.5 million deal, guess how much leverage he has to negotiate? Pretty close to zero.
The 33 year old Pierce was not going to get favorable terms from C’s management in that arrangement, simply because they had no incentive to ante up. Danny doesn’t want to overpaying an aging vet, and doesn’t want to tie up his salary cap room for the future on a potential over the hill guy if he doesn’t have to. That’s likely the mindset Ainge had in any extension negotiations during this past year with Pierce. He likely wanted Pierce back, but at a number that made sense for the team.
Pierce’s agent really had no way to counter this move if Pierce is locked into a contract. If Paul had opted in, he could wait Ainge out and go to free agency, but then Pierce is a year older, and may have caused himself plenty of dough with a new CBA in place.
By opting out now, Pierce is now forcing Ainge’s hand. He will be able to gauge his market value and come back to Danny in a position to negotiate for demands, with the threat of walking away from The C’s if Danny fails to comply.
Now in this sense, it’s somewhat of a risk if the market isn’t as friendly to Pierce as he thinks it will be, but with so much cap room out there, someone is likely to throw a hefty long term deal at an All-Star like Paul, that increase the chances of Ainge paying him what he wants.
4) The Uncertainty Looming Around The C’s Next Year
This one is quite simple really. Doc Rivers still might not be back. Ray Allen may not be back. I do believe that Doc still hasn’t made a decision, but it’s of course possible that Paul knows something we don’t know right now about Rivers.
That being said, opting out gives Pierce options here. The Truth is after additional Championships and he wants to do in Beantown. However, it’s not apparent yet whether Danny Ainge is planning on throwing in the towel on contending with this core group for the next few years, especially if he has to overpay for them.
Pierce ideally wants to know who will be back here next year, and they potentially will affect his contract demands for whatever his next contract will be. With Doc due to decide his fate with this team by tomorrow, opting out was the only real way Pierce gets a full read on this situation and allowing him options.
5) Agents Like to Get Paid
This is kind of the wildcard in this scenario. Pierce’s agent Jeff Schwartz has a bit of a history of playing hardball with his clients. For an example, look no further than last year with Lamar Odom in LA. Schwartz turned down a 3 year/27 million dollar offer for Odom, shopping his client around the league with limited success at getting a better deal.
This development angered Lakers owner Jerry Buss to that degree that he pulled the offer off the table for Odom in mid July, leaving Schwartz twisting in the wind for couple weeks. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed after Phil Jackson stepped in to mediate, and advocate for the his power forward. Finally, Odom was signed to a 4 year/33 million deal and all sides went home happy, still it took until the end of July for the resolution to be settled.
Pierce opting out also means that Schwartz gets commission on a new contract, and as stated from reason number one, what will likely be a bigger contract than anything he could get after next year.
So what does this mean when it comes to Pierce? Schwartz likes to play hardball and stick to his guns, setting the table for what may be some contentious negotiating with Danny Ainge, who doesn’t like to be pushed around. Buckle your seatbelts folks, this one could get ugly.
Other Factors To Consider in Negotiations
-How much does Paul Pierce want to win? Or is he willing to follow the team that throws the most money at him? If that’s the case, he may be saying goodbye to Boston
-The Celtics are likely very happy Pierce opted out here, as it reduces their luxury tax burden for next year in a big way. Don’t go thinking though the C’s will have lots of cap room if they let Pierce and Ray walk. For further reference on that, be sure to read Zach Lowe’s terrific salary cap breakdown.
-What will Pierce’s market be? For some sense of perspective, Manu Ginoboli signed a 3 year/39 million dollar extension this past March. He’s also 32 years old. Pierce, at worse, should likely expect 1-2 million more a year over Manu, so 3 year/45 million is a likely starting point. You can bet though Pierce is going to want a 4th year.
-Ainge has shown a willingness to walk away from a vital player and not overpay them in free agency (a la James Posey). How much will his stance change, (if at all) for the face of a franchise like Paul Pierce?
Lots of questions, very few answers as of right now.
Prediction: It won’t be pretty, but this deal gets done. Pierce holds out for a 4th year and eventually gets it (team option with a reasonable buyout) 4 years 52 million.