The internet is full of rumor that the Boston Celtics intend to waive Paul Pierce, thus paying him only $5 of his $15 millon on the last year of his contract:
This is not to begin mourning the death of his Celtics life, but to understand what it all meant if reports today from Greg Dickerson are true.
“I don’t think they will (bring Pierce back),” Dickerson said Sunday on CSNNE. “And I know that the company that Paul Pierce hangs around in, they do not believe – and I don’t think Paul Pierce believes – that he is going to be brought back next year at $15 million. I know for a fact that people around Paul Pierce have pretty much resigned themselves to the fact that he’s played his final game in a Boston Celtics uniform. Again, Paul wants to stay – obviously for $15 million, but he wants to finish his career in a Celtics uniform.”
I find this interesting because, first, even at his age, Pierce is basically Boston's best player, and second, it's an expiring contract, and lastly, the Celtics will probably spend the money somewhere else anyway.
Let's first address the question of whether Pierce is worth $15 million next year. And the answer, at his age, is very likely no. Pierce is certainly still a good player, and likely will be next year, but it is simply not likely that he will return to the levels he played at when Boston made consecutive NBA finals; when age starts taking its toll, performance rarely makes a comeback, which is why I ridiculed folks that were talking about how great Jermaine O'Neal looked in workouts last summer (although, yes, Kobe and Timmy both bucked this trend last year).
But then let's consider that the Celtics don't save $15 million by waiving him -- they only save $10 million. They must pay him the $5 million guaranteed portion of his contract. In essence, the Celtics would be paying Pierce $5 million to play for someone else. So, the question, from the celtics perspective, is whether Pierce is worth $10 million. And there....well, it's pretty damn close.
If you take a look at above-average-but-not-superstar wings in the NBA, you'll find a lot of names in the 8-11 million range: Danillo Gallinari, Loul Deng, Shawn Marion (who's still really good), Aaron Afflalo, Kevin Martin, Andrei Kirilenko, Nicolas Batum (ok those last two are pretty firmly stars). Then you look at guys who are crazy overpaid, like Caron Butler, Ben Gordon, Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton, Richard Jefferson, Metta World Peace and Boston's own Jeff Green (I am ignoring both over- and fairly paid max-contract players, to keep the price-range comparison).
So, frankly, when you compare Pierce to that crowd, he certainly appears worth $10 million. Again, they have to pay $5 of his $15 million whether they release him or not, so this is classic economics here. It's essentially a question of fixed and marginal costs. A shop owner deals with this question every time he decides whether to stay open at night when business is slower, or on Sundays when foot traffic downtown is lower, etc. The rent, etc, do not matter, only the marginal costs (increased electricity, employee pay, etc) do. It costs the Celtics $10 million to keep Paul Pierce, not $15. When you add in to the equation that Pierce's $15 million dollar expiring contract might have some trade value before the deadline, it seems obvious to me that Pierce is worth the investment.
Which brings me to my final point. Certainly, there will be a few productive and cheap players on the market (I am hoping Flip Saunders is smart enough to throw $5+ million at Kyle Korver, for example). But given Ainge's history, do you trust him to replace Pierce with a guy like Korver, Dunleavy, Dorell Wright, etc on the cheap, or do you think he's more likely to use the money to overpay for somebody like OJ Mayo? Given his history, especially last season, I wouldn't feel good at all about whether he uses the money wisely. And even if he does, this means that the Celtics only save a few million when all is said and done.
Then you add one more factor -- if they let Pierce go, Garnett might hang it up. I guess it's a question of whether you think that's a good thing; if he does it probably saves the Celtics some money but KG is certainly not going to walk away from all of the $24 million left on his contract, so they wouldn't save all of it. And although KG is now about 73 years old and has about 26 million miles on those legs, he is still a very effective player. If I were a Celtics fan, I'd rather see them keep Pierce. Then, they can trade him at the deadline of there are good offers, or let him walk in 2014. KG will likely retire then. There isn't a big opportunity cost here; it's not as though jettisoning Pierce and having KG retire frees up space and gets Dwight Howard or Chris Paul to sign.
In the end, it is a complete mystery to me why Boston wants to do this. Anyone else have any insight?