On Friday, word slipped out that the Celtics might be discussing Paul Pierce as part of trade conversations. The information came from the reliable pen of Ken Berger of CBS Sports so it’s not to be discounted. That’s not the same thing as suggesting the Celtics are shopping Pierce. Rather, it’s more likely other teams saw the Celtics floundering, noted Pierce’s continued excellence and thought Danny Ainge might be of a mind to offload him for younger pieces. The phone rings on Causeway street and suddenly Ainge is “discussing” Pierce. It’s all very lawyer-y.
The Celtics current 5-game winning streak may have already calmed the Pierce trade waters and even though I agree with Brian’s assessment about the unlikeliness of Pierce moving before the deadline, it’s worth considering if there’s a way to upgrade the small forward spot and/or shift the roster dynamics.
I think the arguments for moving Pierce are all intertwined, if not exactly compelling. I see them through the prism of a potential matchup with Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals in May. Hit the jump and we’ll go through them.
1) Jeff Green is on a long term deal and may be more effective playing longer minutes with better players (the starters). It may not make sense to tie up so much salary ($25M) in two SFs given Boston’s concerns with the center and power forward spots and Miami’s vulnerability in those areas.
2) A younger or bigger small forward (be it Green or someone else) could more easily sustain his effort level against LeBron James in the playoffs. In a seven game series, Pierce can no longer impact both sides of the ball when guarding and being guarded by James. He wears out and because he’s so crucial to Boston’s already limited offense, the C’s can go into long droughts trying to put points up against Miami. There are also downstream effects on Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo, who have to take on more of the scoring burden when Pierce slips. And they both have their own offensive issues (KG – stamina, Rondo – periodic unwillingness to attack).
3) Pierce has great value for contenders due to his history of big game performance, his continued production (20.33 PER, his highest of the new Big Three era) and his limited long term salary liability (He’s signed for $15.3M next year but there’s a $4M buyout).
The best package for Pierce would be one that includes a tenacious defender at the small forward and a big for the PF or C spot. This is purely illustrative but for the former, think Tony Allen. For the latter, think Al Jefferson. Pierce + something could equal a package of that nature. It would even out the roster, give Boston some interior scoring Miami would struggle to defend and force LeBron to battle two, energetic SFs all game long.
Whether the C’s move Pierce or just pursue a big through other means: whoever comes back must be an effective pick and roll defender. If the big in question is at all lumbering, Miami will expose him, like they did to Roy Hibbert last year. That’s why talk of Jefferson is a non-starter for me. You don’t have to go small to battle Miami. But you do have to go quick.
So, there we are. Shy of a major injury that pushes the C’s to assured non-contender status, Pierce is probably going nowhere in the next five weeks. But the idea of moving him is at least defensible, unless you’re hung up on loyalty, which is not Ainge’s strong suit when it comes to player personnel decisions.