As of today, the Brooklyn Nets’ payroll for the 2014-2015 season stands at just over $89 million. With a projected salary cap of $63.2 million for the upcoming season, the Nets obviously have little flexibility when it comes to signing free agents this offseason.
Still, with the seemingly bottomless pockets of Mikhail Prokhorov (and his apparent willingness to pay the luxury tax again), the Nets could still make a run at an impact free agent or two. One of those possible additions may be a very familiar face: Paul Anthony Pierce.
Profile: Pierce, 36, will be entering his 17th year in the league at the start of next season. After spending his entire professional career in Boston, Pierce was dealt along with Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets in a draft day deal last summer as the Celtics hit the reset the button. After scoring over 18 points a game in his last season in Boston, Pierce’s scoring dropped to 13.5 this past season on the way to his most inconsistent season in the league. Below are last season’s numbers as compared to the rest of his career (statistics from BasketballReference.com).
Why they should sign him: Despite struggling with inconsistency, Pierce did remain a relatively productive player for the Nets. While his basic statistics with Brooklyn look poor compared to his career numbers, Pierce’s numbers per 36 minutes this past season remained close to his career averages, including 2-point field goal percentage (50.7% in 2013-2014 vs. 47.8% for his career) and 3-point percentage (37.3 % vs. 37.0 %). And as advertised, the man Shaquille O’Neal nicknamed “The Truth” was as clutch this season he ever was. According to BasketballReference.com, these are Pierce’s numbers in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime with the game within five points either way:
For perspective, Pierce’s overall field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, and effective field goal percentage (eFG%) in this situation this season beat out Kevin Durant’s (37.9% overall, 38.5% from three, 45.5% eFG%) and matched up well with LeBron James’ numbers (48.4% overall, 31.0% from three, 53.2% eFG%). Although both Durant and James took more shots than Pierce in those situations, Pierce still made it count when he did shoot. And as he said before the opening game of the playoffs against the Raptors: “You can’t buy it (clutch) at Walgreens or Costco.”
Why they shouldn’t sign him: Nets fans saw firsthand the various injuries Pierce experienced this past season, which no doubt played a role in his previously mentioned inconsistency. Despite playing in 75 of his team’s 82 games, the 16-year veteran played the second fewest minutes of his career as he dealt with a broken shooting hand, a sore hip and shoulder, and a pulled groin. Obviously injuries are a cause for concern regardless of a player’s age, but they tend to linger for a longer period of time with older players. Any team, not just the Nets, would need to closely monitor Pierce’s minutes to keep him fresh. Because of this, The Truth is more of a role player who should primarily come off the bench at this point. With a roster that already relies on injury prone players (i.e. Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Kevin Garnett, etc.), adding another older, injury prone player to play the majority of minutes at small forward is not ideal.
Prediction: Ultimately, with over $184 million in career earnings in the bank, the lure of one more championship run is what Piece will likely focus on in free agency rather than signing one more large contract. The number of teams that have both the cap space and the talent to contend next season is pretty small, and it’s a list that does not seem would include the Nets. The scenario that has received the most attention is Pierce reuniting with Doc Rivers in Los Angeles with the Clippers. A young team with fresh legs would be ideal for Pierce at this point in his career as he would not be asked to carry the scoring load, yet can still contribute offensively when called upon. One would think the Doc Rivers connection would strengthen the chances of Pierce landing with the Clippers, which is where he ultimately lands.
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