This has been an offseason filled with rumors concerning Paul Pierce’s future with the Celtics, and that’s a little scary because the offseason hasn’t even started. In reality, we’ve got at least three weeks — Game 4 of the Finals is scheduled for June 13 — before the insanity really kicks into gear. And I don’t know about you, but I’m terrified. From a Celtics standpoint, the rumors might outweigh the drama of the last two trade deadlines combined. According to NBA circles, Stephen A. Smith will have Pierce going to the Beijing Ducks as part of a package for Stephon Marbury.
But in the meantime, there’s been, and will continue to be, a ton of speculation over what Danny Ainge has planned for The Captain.
The latest comes to us from the News-Herald in Ohio, which ran a story that cited sources indicating that Boston is now “likely” to buy Pierce out of his contract. But for it’s worth, I spoke with a team source this weekend who immediately laughed off this report.
The funny part wasn’t the idea that the Celtics will buy out Pierce, because, as we know, that’s obviously within the realm of possibility. The joke was the suggestion that the C’s are “likely” to do anything at this point in time.
The truth is (now this is me talking) that the Celtics will deal with Pierce the same way they deal with everything: By exploring every option. And right now, with a full month before we even get to the draft, the exploration is far from over. It would be crazy for the Celtics to look at the current state of things and just shrug their shoulders like: “OK, well I guess we’ll probably just buy him out.”
Look around the league: One team that everyone talks about as a potential destination for Pierce (and maybe even a trading partner for the C’s) is the Clippers. As we speak, they don’t have a coach or a promise from Chris Paul. They’ve got a few priorities to work out before considering Pierce.
Or what about a team like Memphis? They could use a veteran presence; especially a wing scorer. But they’re still alive (barely) and will eventually have to deal with Lionel Hollins before really moving on to the offseason.
You very rarely see an enormous trade within a division, but Philadelphia is under new ownership, and with a brand new general manager. They look poised to seriously shake up that roster. But they also need to find a coach. And Sam Hinkie’s been on the job for two weeks. He needs to breath before pulling off a trade.
It’s just too early.
And for the Celtics, this isn’t an easy decision.
Here’s what Ainge told A. Sherrod Blakely last month about potentially parting ways with Pierce: "What's important to understand, yeah, it's going to be hard for fans and everybody else, but as far as what's doing what's best for the Celtics, it's probably going to be very hard, too.”
And when he said that, I think most of us got wrapped up in the first part of the sentence (which seemed to brace fans for Paul’s departure) and ignored the second part, where Danny basically says: Listen, this isn’t cut and dried.
He couldn’t look at the Celtics at that very moment (or at this moment), foresee what will happen between now and the draft, or now and June 30, and say once for all that the Celtics are better moving forward without Paul Pierce or with Paul Pierce. And even when the time comes, it won’t be an easy decision, not just personally but also as it relates to the best interests of this team. After all, this isn’t just about Pierce. It’s about the entire course of this franchise. He’s one of a handful of difficult and wildly impactful decisions facing Ainge this summer.
Between now and then, he’ll continue to work. The Celtics obviously have a plan, and Ainge will leave every door open in the name of carrying that plan out. But he, and the entire league, has a long way to go before anything surrounding the specifics can be considered “likely.”