Consider the departure of Doc Rivers Phase II of the Celtics’ slow dismantling, which began last summer with Ray Allen leaving Boston. Phase III will come this week, when Boston must either trade Paul Pierce or decide to buy him out. They have until June 30 to inform Pierce of such a move.
As for the rebuilding sure to follow the dismantling, that is contingent on what happens with Pierce. If the Celtics can unload Pierce to a team with enough cap space to absorb his salary, they will get a trade exception worth Pierce’s salary, or $15.3 million. And if that happens, the plan is already in place. According to a source, the Celtics have a sign-and-trade offer ready for Atlanta forward Josh Smith that would be the top priority in free agency.
The Boston Celtics have a sign-and-trade offer prepared for Josh Smith in the event they can move Paul Pierce and make a run at the Hawks forward. (AP Photo)
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Smith has long been connected to Boston in trade rumors, including one that would have sent Pierce to Atlanta in February. His link to the current Celtics dates back to high school, when he played with point guard Rajon Rondo at Oak Hill.
In order to land Smith, though, the Celtics need to pull off a deal for Pierce that will net them a trade exception. Because teams over the salary cap can’t take on salary without sending back matching salaries, Boston’s options are limited to teams under the cap. That’s why two teams that have been connected to a Pierce deal have been Cleveland and Milwaukee.
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But sources told Sporting News that there is some trepidation when it comes to trading for Pierce, because he has let it be known that if he must leave Boston, he wants to play for a contender. He could do that—most likely joining Rivers in Los Angeles—if the Celtics buy him out. But not if he is traded. The Cavaliers, for example, don’t want to trade for Pierce if he does not want to be there.
A source indicated that any potential Pierce-to-Cleveland deal is, “a long shot.”
There is some skepticism about Milwaukee’s interest in Pierce, too. The Bucks were close to landing Smith via trade in February, and Smith is willing to go to Milwaukee in free agency. While the Celtics would be able to offer Smith a deal starting at $15 million—the value of the trade exception they’d get for trading Pierce—the Bucks could offer a full max deal, starting at $17.5 million.
If the Bucks are in a better position to land Smith in free agency, they would not have much incentive to instead take on the 35-year-old Pierce, and help Boston get Smith instead.