As we wait for this decision, we also must face the rest of the offseason, which means it is also rumor season. With that time of year, comes plenty of information floating around. Some of it is valid. The rest of it? Not so much.
With nearly every possible scenario in play for the Celtics this summer, when it comes to the path Danny Ainge can take for his squad, it’s important to understand what he can and can’t do in regards to Pierce.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to break down the facts around Pierce’s contract, with some help from the indispensable Mark Deeks of Shamsports.com, one of the best NBA salary (and all things NBA) sites around the web. With this, it is my hope everyone will have a better idea of the facts surrounding the Celtics offseason moving forward.
FACT: Pierce is scheduled to earn $15.3 million dollars in the 2013-14 NBA season
We’ll start out simple here. Pierce’s salary for next year is the fourth and final year of the contract extension Pierce signed after the 2010 NBA Finals. Since the contract was signed before the new CBA was put into effect, the C’s can still amnesty Pierce at any time and have his money come off the books (while still having to pay him his full salary, unless a team claims him in amnesty waivers).
FICTION: Pierce has a player option or ETO for next season
This is a very important issue. There were false reports out there last week, (including one from the respected Tom Ziller at SBNation that was later corrected) indicating Pierce could opt out of his big contract and just sign a new one with the C’s. This is not true. Pierce’s destiny is solely in the hands of the Celtics and Ainge. There is no player option or early termination option for the captain.
FACT: Pierce’s contract for next season is unguaranteed before June 30th.
Like many long-term deals these days, Ainge left himself an out back in 2010, when he signed Pierce to an extension. For the 2013-14 season, the Celtics only guaranteed Pierce $5 million dollars of the contract, if they choose to waive him before June 30th, 2013 or in other words, the night before free agency. Danny likely put that clause in the contract years ago in case a variety of things happened (Pierce losing his abilities rapidly, Celtics in a full fledged rebuild, wanting to clear cap room for a rebuild, etc.) Now he has to make a decision on whether to exercise it. If the C’s waive Pierce, that $5 million dollars Pierce was guaranteed will still count against the salary cap.
FICTION: The Celtics would get under the salary cap by waiving Pierce
Waiving the 35-year-old by June 30th would clear $10 million dollars off the C’s salary cap for next season. Unfortunately, that would do little to improve the team’s spending abilities for next season. Currently the C’s have $73 million dollars in contracts guaranteed to 11 players for next season. If the C’s waive Pierce, that would reduce that number to $63 million for 10 players, but would not bring Boston under the salary cap, which will likely be between 58 and 60 million dollars for next season.
By waiving Pierce, the C’s would be gaining no real flexibility to spend on the free agent market, as they would just have their mid-level exception to use, in either case, barring other major roster moves. If Pierce were to stay, it would likely just be the mini mid-level (3 million) that would be available to Boston if the roster remains as composed now.
FICTION: The Celtics would be unable to sign Pierce for a team friendly contract this season after waiving him due to CBA rules.
This is where contract language is very important. If the C’s dump Pierce by June 30th, they would NOT be buying him out, only waiving him. By waiving him, this puts no limitations on their ability to sign him for next season. If they bought him out, new CBA rules limit teams from resigning players (Edit: only players that are traded by a team) for a full year from the date they are bought out. That is not the case here with Pierce.
FACT: If the Celtics waive Pierce, they lose bird rights on him.
Before you get too excited about that last piece of fiction, a sobering fact follows. By waiving Pierce, Boston forfeits all bird rights on Pierce. That leads us to another unfortunate fact.
FACT: The Celtics would be highly unlikely to sign Pierce to a new contract for the 2013-14 season after waiving him before June 30th due to their salary cap situation.
Remember all that committed money Ainge has on the books for next year? That’s incredibly limiting in this situation. If the C’s wanted to bring back Pierce on a smaller deal for 2013-14 after waiving him, they probably wouldn’t be able to do it, since without bird rights on Pierce, there is no real flexibility to sign him. The mid-level exception would be available, but Pierce is likely to command much more than that on the open market. Plus, it’s unclear if the team would even want to use an exception like that on Pierce when they don’t have to. However you slice it, unless Danny does so major wheeling and dealing of the rest of the roster to create salary cap room, this scenario isn’t happening.
FICTION: The Celtics will use the amnesty clause on Paul Pierce
Even if you put aside the bad vibes about amnestying a Celtics legend, doing this to Pierce really doesn’t make much sense for the Celtics, unless it’s accompanied by a couple other moves, that clear MAJOR cap space. Those scenarios are highly unlikely to happen, for a multitude of reasons I will get into in later posts this offseason. Without that possibility, amnestying Pierce still leaves Ainge at the cap ($58 million roughly) and provides ownership having to pay a fat check for a good player to play somewhere else. It’s not happening.
FACT: It is highly unlikely Pierce is traded to a team that will waive him before June 30th.
When you look at prospective trade partners in a Pierce deal for Boston, you have to look from both sides of the equation. Rebuilding teams probably have no need for Pierce, who is nearing the end of his career. If Pierce is dealt to a contender, they will want to keep him, not waive him for salary cap relief.
(PROBABLY) FICTION: The Celtics will waive Pierce before June 30th.
Taking everything I’ve written about into consideration, it’s very hard to envision a scenario in which Pierce is waived. Despite an awful Knicks series, he’s still a very good player. He’s not blocking the development of anyone on the team (directly). Ainge’s philosophy is always been trying to get value for a player before they walk away. Waiving Pierce would go against that line of thinking and would leave a disgruntled fanbase.
FACT OR FICTION: Pierce will be traded this summer.
This is Ainge’s only real move if he wants to get rid of Pierce and after looking at what the market was for the past couple seasons, I bet this becomes fiction. Not a lot of fits out there that would make sense for Boston. They aren’t going to trade Pierce anywhere, it’s going to have to be a deal to a team he’d want to play for. You can bet Ainge will be looking though, I just don’t see him finding the right package and destination to satisfy all parties involved.