The offseason is here for the Boston Celtics, and in just a couple of months, they will begin the process of putting next year’s team together. We will take a look at the current Celtics and try to figure out what to do with each of them. We begin today with the biggest question on the roster right now, the captain, Paul Pierce.
Storybooks are written to give children a calm sense of justified, black-and-white finality before they go to bed. Good things happen to the good guys, bad things happen to the bad guys, people who do wrong are punished, and people who do good are rewarded. Grey area doesn’t exist.
We’re all raised on these concepts, but life slowly weans us from them as we learn the nuances that go along with just about everything. Nothing is black-and-white.
Paul Pierce has played the hero for Boston so often, that the storybook ending to his career in Boston would have, at least, involved one more right elbow jumper to beat the buzzer. Even if the Celtics still lost to the Knicks in Game 6, it would have been a calming denouement to the Pierce saga in Boston.
But Margaret Wise Brown didn’t pen this tale. That leaves us in a very distasteful place. If Pierce stays in Boston, there will be many fans angry at the team’s inability to move on. If he goes, many fans will be angry at the lack of loyalty. It’s not pretty, and it’s made even less so by the six-game nightmare Pierce suffered through in this year’s playoffs.
What I will attempt to do is lay out each of the scenarios for Pierce, and, moving forward, all of the players on the roster, so we can have a solid grasp of what the team’s options really are. Pierce is front-and-center on everyone’s mind right now, and for good reason. The moment the Pierce domino falls, the rest of the team’s decisions can be made. Here are the team’s options:
The new collective bargaining agreement allows for players under contract under the old CBA to be released via the “Amnesty Provision.” It’s important to note that ONLY players who were under their current contracts BEFORE the new CBA are eligible. That means only Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, and Avery Bradley can be amnestied. Kevin Garnett, for example, cannot because even though he was a Celtic under the old CBA, his contract was signed AFTER the new CBA. It also can only be used once. So if they use it on Pierce, they can’t use it on, say, Rondo later.
The benefit to using the Amnesty on Pierce is that his entire $15.3 million salary comes off the books. This is the ONLY scenario under which the entire $15.3 million is removed from the Celtics payroll. After Pierce is waived under the Amnesty Provision, he goes into a waiver-bidding process under which only teams with enough cap space to accommodate their bid on him can participate. The minimum bid for him is the minimum salary for a veteran of his length of service, which for Pierce is $1.4 million.
So in a nutshell, if a team has $1.4 million in cap space, they can make the minimum bid on Pierce and no more. If a team has $10 million in cap space, it can bid any amount under it’s cap for Pierce. He’d then go to the highest bidder, with the Celtics obligated to pay the difference between what the new team is paying him, and what his full contract is. He’ll still make $15.3 million next year if he’s released under the Amnesty Provision, it would just be a matter of how much of that the Celtics would have to pay.
The downside to the Amnesty Provision is the Celtics would be paying Pierce to play for someone else. And if some team uses $5 million of their cap space, the Celtics ownership group would be paying Paul Pierce $10 million to play basketball for another team.
If the Pierce amnesty is the ONLY move the Celtics make to shed salary, the Celtic would be at just under $60.7 million. That’s about $2 million OVER the cap, but well under the luxury tax.
Because they’d be over the cap but under the tax, the Celtics would have their full mid-level exception ($5.150 million) and the bi-annual exception ($2.016 million) to use on free-agents this offseason.
What does that all mean?
If the Celtics ONLY salary-shedding move this summer is using the amnesty on Paul Pierce, you clear $15.3 million off the books, but only maintain the ability to spend about $7 million on free agents… but you can spend NO MORE than $5.150 million on any one free agent. You CANNOT amnesty Pierce and use that $15.3 million to sign someone else. On top of that, the owners would still be spending millions to pay Paul Pierce to play for another team.
If the Celtics do decide to use the Amnesty Provision on Pierce, they’ll have ONE WEEK to do it: July 10-16. So if Pierce is still on the roster after July 16, they CANNOT use the Amnesty Provision on him.
Again, Paul Pierce is due a salary of $15.3 million next season. According to ShamSports, Pierce is guaranteed $5 million of that, and will be guaranteed ALL of that if he’s retained beyond June 30. So if Pierce is still on this roster on July 1, he’s going to get $15.3 million next season.
However, the Celtics could pay him the $5 million, release him before June 30, and he’d be a free agent on July 1. It’s important to note, any money paid to a player outside of the Amnesty Provision remains on the books. So waiving Pierce by paying him the guaranteed portion of his contract only clears about $10.3 million. That puts the Celtics in the same situation as they’d be in with the Amnesty, only with a little less room between the cap and the luxury tax. The Celtics would still only have their full mid-level exception ($5.150 million) and the bi-annual exception ($2.016 million) to use on free agents.
This gets a little complicated… or a little more complicated if your head is already spinning from the first two scenarios.
There is an argument that has been presented recently that Pierce’s value in a trade is increased because a team looking to clear cap space could trade for Pierce, pay him the $5 million, and waive him to create $10 million in space. However, there is a limited time to get this done, as I just explained, because the contract becomes FULLY GUARANTEED on July 1. The NBA draft is on June 27. If Pierce is going to be moved in this scenario, it’d have to be done on draft day.
There are issues with this.
- The Celtics have 14 guys under contract for next season, though Shavlik Randolph, Terrence Williams, and DJ White are not guaranteed. Still, a trade involving Pierce on draft night, I assume, would involve at the teams swapping picks, and the player being traded in exchange for Pierce. In fact, it couldn’t involve more than that because the Celtics can’t trade for more guys than they have spots for.
- If the trade is with a tax-paying team, the other team can take in 125% + $100,000 of what it sends out. That means the Celtics’ savings will be minimal, at best (assuming they’d want to take in less than they sent out). If it’s a non-tax paying team, the other team can take in $150% + $100,000.
Let’s face it, the number of teams looking to make a deal like this just so they can waive Pierce is minimal (if anyone is looking to do it at all), and who knows if those few teams have anything they really want to give up JUST to save some money. The options are limited. It’s possible, but in the end, the Celtics won’t be getting a whole lot in terms of tax-space savings, and who knows what kind of player is available.
One note: In this scenario, Pierce could not be re-signed for one year if he’s waived. So there’s no fantasy of somehow getting Pierce back on the cheap next year in some kind of sneaky deal.
The Celtics could, of course, continue to explore trades beyond draft night. But at that point, the full $15.3 million is guaranteed, and teams would be trading for Paul Pierce in an effort to have him play for them. Again, the salary matching rules apply. The BEST CASE scenario is you find a team somehow willing to send out less than it gets in-return salary-wise, and even then you’re not saving a significant amount of money and you have to watch how many guys you bring in because of the currently occupied roster spots.
The fact of the matter in a Pierce trade is you’re asking a team to take a guy who will be 36 next season and who struggled through arguably the worst post-season performance of his career in exchange for young assets.
That’s not to say Pierce’s career should be over. I’m just saying that what you’re asking teams to do in a trade scenario is not very realistic. His trade value is not very high right now.
He could retire…
It’s another possibility, but’s pretty remote. He’s already said he wants to come back, but he could, at some point in July or August, decide that getting ready for another season just isn’t worth it. If he does retire and file retirement papers, the $15.3 million comes off the books, but he can’t come back for a full year. So the “I quit….. no wait, I don’t quit!” is off the table in this scenario.
The team could always just keep Paul Pierce and make a run with what they have. They may choose to use other options on other players to free up space under the tax line. Last year, that line was $70.3 million. The current C’s roster is slated to be paid $76 million. It was paid $72 million last year and, because they used the full, non-taxpayer mid-level, they faced a hard cap of $74.3 million.
I know, it’s a lot of numbers. But they’re all important in all of these scenarios, especially if they choose to keep Pierce.
The Celtics would have to clear enough money to get to about $65 million. That would allow them to sign a draft pick and use both exceptions. If they choose to keep Pierce and if they want to shave $10 million in salaries, they’d have to start using things like the “Stretch Provision.”
For example, if they used the “Stretch Provision” on Jason Terry, it would allow the Celtics to stretch the cap-hit over 5 years instead of the two remaining years. So instead of paying him about $10.6 million over the next two years, they’d cut that to a $2,135,000 cap number per year over five years. It saves $3 million.
Of course, you don’t want to get bogged down in something like that because if you use it too much, you’ll have piles of dead money on your books that hamper you for years.
The Celtics could cut both White and Randolph to save a couple million more. From there, you have to get creative.
They could choose to stop there, use the tax-payer mid-level, and just spend $3.183 million on a free agent. They’d give up the use of the bi-annual under this scenario… but they also wouldn’t be bound by the $74 million hard cap. They’d be whacked with a stiffer luxury tax penalty than the previous dollar-for-dollar rate, and could possibly face a luxury tax that is double (or more) than they’ve been used to.
So… to recap…
- Amnesty: $15.3 million comes off the books, but C’s are still responsible for paying some portion of Pierce’s salary for him to play on another team.
- Waive: They $5 million stays on the books, but they’d clear $10.3 million.
- Trade: varies, but due to salary-matching rules, C’s savings would be minimal.
- Keep: Celtics face a higher tax hit if they can’t clear enough space to avoid it with other moves.
- Retirement: Only if Pierce decides his career is over and files proper paperwork will the C’s see the full $15.3 million off the books.
There is no easy answer here. You can argue that amnesty is the way to go, but the Celtics owners could end up paying just as much (or close to it) in the end by paying a significant portion of Pierce’s actual salary while paying the salaries and taxes of their own roster.
Trades are a crap shoot. They COULD find a trade partner that gives them what they want, but that requires keeping him for the prolonged process of trade discussions, thus guaranteeing his $15.3 million salary.
They could just waive him, clearing the $10 million and opening exceptions that could be used on free agents, but then you have to find the right free agents that want to play here and fit with their new teammates. Just look back at how excited we were in August and September about how our team was shaping up. Having money is one thing, getting something for that money is an entirely different ballgame.
Or they could keep him, suck it up, pay whatever taxes there are to be paid, and let Pierce walk next year (or re-sign him to a reasonable deal for whatever production he can provide off the bench, should both sides want to do that). They could place a premium on retaining one of the greatest players in franchise history, thus making them willing to pay the extra money for him and the team.
If I was one of the owners, I’d have an issue with paying Pierce a lot of money while he plays for another team. And God help me if he goes to a rival and I end up paying him millions of dollars to screw me in the playoffs next season. I’m just not willing to amnesty the guy.
That brings me to the decision to waive him. Operating in the sheer vacuum of Pierce being the only salary-shedding deal, it’s not worth it. If Pierce’s departure is GUARANTEED to lead to Garnett’s retirement (the kind of retirement where he files papers and forgoes his salary, because if it’s not, you’re paying him money to quit), then it’s a different story. If they go to Garnett and ask him about this and he says “yes, I’ll retire,” then I’d probably just waive Pierce and start the process of moving on. There’s no guarantee that happens though. So I’m going to pass on waiving Pierce too.
I know his trade value is low, but I’m fine with Danny Ainge exploring those options. If the “you gotta make that deal” kind of trade comes up, then I’d (as the owner) sign off on it understanding it’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s necessary to move forward.
That’s unlikely, though. And so is Pierce quitting. Which brings me to the conclusion that the most likely scenario is that Pierce stays with this team. Even if that’s, say, a 50% chance, that’s still more likely than him being waived, traded, or amnestied. When I look at the whole picture, I think attempts to do everything else will fizzle. I think the Celtics can field a team that keeps Pierce, pays a tax, and remains competitive (if healthy). Next year will be the first year that Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley will play all, or at least most, of the season in the same backcourt. Jeff Green can remain a starter, and Pierce can be a bench scorer whose time is limited and who can still finish with crunch time minutes.
And never under-value the tutelage of Pierce and Garnett for younger guys like Green, Bradley, and Sullinger. There’s a value to that that can’t be measured. And if the Celtics are truly going with that core group moving forward, then keeping the battle-tested veterans for one more year, especially if they’re willing to show true leadership and take reduced roles for the betterment of the team, would prove to be money well spent.
Is some of this sentimental? Of course. I also want Pierce to be one of the few guys that can finish their careers with the same team. But I’m not naive. I’m open to the possibility that he won’t. Jordan, Chamberlain, Barkley, Olajuwon, Ewing… the list of legends who played for more than one team is a long one. Nothing makes Pierce immune from that. But when all things are considered, I think the most likely scenario is at least one more year in Boston for The Truth.