The message coming out of Celtic-Land today is a bit incongruous. On the one hand, you have Pail Pierce saying he will opt out of his current contract, explore free agency in July and perhaps break up the band. And on the other hand, there is news today that Doc Rivers is coming back to coach next season because he “wants another crack at it with this group.” The implication in Rivers statement is clear …. He is coming back to coach the SAME team that he just took to the NBA finals and that includes Paul Pierce.
I have a bad feeling that the Celtics are about to do something stupid.
Here is my concern. At this point, Paul Pierce has pissed away his $21M paycheck for 2011. The Celts, if they wanted to, could start rebuilding in a big way with that largess off the books. In fact, with Sheed retiring, the Celts have just four players (and two rookies) under contract in 2011 and they have about $20M in cap room, assuming Pierce and Ray Allen (and Nate and Tony Allen) are jettisoned. You can laugh, but that is enough cap room to bring in a max contract to play alongside Rondo for the next five years. And isn’t it conceivable that LBJ would consider an opportunity to play with Rondo and Garnett after seeing first-hand what those two can do?
Instead, Rivers’ return suggests the Celts intend to keep Allen and Pierce, and in the latter instance, I am worried about what it will take to keep Pierce around. This is the problem in a nutshell. Pierce, I’m sure, still thinks of himself as a “max” type player, meaning he probably sees himself as a 16-18M/yr guy who deserves at least three years and perhaps even four. Well, he is in for a rude awakening as that market doesn’t exist for his declining skill set. That being said, I don’t doubt there is a team out there that will pay him $15M and give him a third year. And if the Celts match that, they are trading away their future for a big bet on 2011.
Because this is the problem. Ray Allen will most likely be given just a two-year deal and that is fine. There will probably be a lockout in 2012 so who cares about that year anyways. But Pierce, with his three or four year deal, will be sitting out there in 2013 and 2014 with atrophied skills and a big cap number. So when KG is done after 2012 and the Celts have plenty of dough available to make a big move, Pierce’s contract will be standing right in the way of a big acquisition.
If I had my druthers, the Celts would bring back Pierce on a 2/30 deal that gave the Celts a couple years of competitiveness and then the expiration of three big contracts (PP, KG and Ray Allen) after 2012. But I don’t see this happening. No way. No how. Pierce will want more than that. And I think he will get it from the Celts. Doc Rivers wouldn’t be returning if that weren’t the case.
So I think the Celts are about to fall into one of the classic traps in professional sports and that is not knowing when to start the re-build. Listen, I am all in favor of keeping the band together for one last concert because I think there is one final kick-ass finale left in this group. But the problem is, one of the band members wants to keep playing and playing and the only way you get to see the final concert is if you enable his sad solo career down the road. In a perfect world, this would all end conveniently as the band would bring down the house next year, everyone would head their separate ways after 2012 and a new band would rise in 2013. But this isn’t a perfect world and the Celts appear like they are preparing to damn their future for a 8-1 bet in 2011.
[Editors Note …… this can all get really fucked up under the new CBA. A hard cap and Pierce’s 15M/yr will not go well together.]