In an article Friday, we are told that the Dallas Mavericks
almost landed Paul Pierce at the trade deadline. Let’s take a closer look at what was said, what was omitted, and more.
THE REPORT OF AN ALMOST-DEAL
Yahoo Sports (Woj) is reporting the following:
Before the trade deadline passed, the Boston Celtics had one final choice to make on the franchise's future: In a three-way deal that would've secured Josh Smith and surrendered Paul Pierce to Dallas, Atlanta wanted Boston's first-round draft pick, too.
As much as any of the proposed deals discussed in February, perhaps this had been the closest Pierce had come to parting with the Celtics, sources told Yahoo! Sports.
Dallas had constructed a package that included Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright and Dahntay Jones to Atlanta, with the Mavericks and Hawks exchanging positions in the 2013 NBA draft.
Nevertheless, Boston wouldn't relent on the pick and the deal died.
Boston sends out Pierce, gets Smith.
Atlanta sends out Smith, gets Crowder, Wright, and Jones and the option to swap places with Dallas in the 2013 draft.
Dallas sends out Crowder, Wright, and Jones and gives Atlanta the option to swap picks in the 2013 draft, gets Pierce.
There are one or more pieces of this trade that weren’t mentioned.
The biggest blank piece in this jigsaw puzzle is intriguing, because there are several possibilities that would have made sense. Trade rules would have required Dallas to send either Shawn Marion or Chris Kaman in this deal, and they almost certainly would have gone to Atlanta.
Who would Dallas have wanted to send? Kaman appeared to be the odd man out near the trade deadline. But in this swap, it may have been Marion. Pierce would have been taking Marion’s position. And with the addition of Pierce’s big salary in 2013-14, the Mavs may have wanted to remove Marion’s from the books: with Marion (as well as Dirk, Pierce, and Carter) the Mavs would have only been left with about $5M of cap room, or an MLE; but by moving Marion, even with Pierce the spending room could have been around $14M.
Looking at it from the other end, the team getting Marion (or Kaman) would almost certainly have been Atlanta.
Under the 125% trade rule the Celtics had room to add either within this trade, but they also were restricted by a hard salary cap of $74.3M (having used a full MLE on Jason Terry).
Adding Marion or Kaman would have put them several million over that hard cap, which is not allowed. (And there was no obvious way they could have shed the additional $3M needed within the same trade.) Perhaps as importantly, by making it a simple Pierce-for-Smith swap, the Celtics were set to be under the tax line for the season, avoiding a second year as a taxpayer and reaping financial benefits as well.
For Atlanta, both players made some sense, but in different ways. Marion would have filled the hole vacated by Smith, at far less cost. Or Kaman would have offered another possibility at center, to allow Horford to play more at PF. The Hawks probably have more cap space lined up for 2013 than they’ll need, so it’s hard to weigh whether their preference would be for Kaman’s expiring or for Marion’s reasonable contract and veteran savvy for one more year at a position of need.
Along with either Marion or Kaman going to Atlanta, there may have been another minor piece or two going from Atlanta to Dallas, to keep the Hawks from having to waive a slew of players prior to a midseason 1-for-4 trade. Those would have been players with salaries at or near the minimum, players of such relative unimportance that the Hawks would have otherwise waived them to do the deal, so we won’t bother to guess there.
THE FLY IN THE OINTMENT
Reportedly the trade failed when Boston wouldn’t include their 2013 first-rounder in the deal, as the Hawks were demanding. At the time, the Celtics were on the borderline of being a playoff team, so in essence they valued a pick in the teens to be worth more than adding Smith.
Was that wise? The 2013 draft will be relatively weak, we hear. But if we look at the Celtics track record under Ainge, picking in the last half of the first round they have mined the following very useful NBA players: Kendrick Perkins (27th), Al Jefferson (15th), Delonte West (24th), Tony Allen (25th), Rajon Rondo (21st), and Avery Bradley (19th). So in that light, the pick represents great value to Boston with Ainge doing the choosing.
WHY WERE THE MAVS INTERESTED?
Pierce would have immediately provided a franchise-caliber player alongside Dirk, without compromising the plan they’ve been working. His contract expires after 2013-14 (the same time as Dirk’s) and would have allowed the Mavs to start with a blank cap in the summer of 2014.
In addition, if the trade included Marion, the Mavs would have retained the ability to pursue a young free agent in 2013. If they found one they liked worth locking up for the long-term and available in the range of $10-14M, even with Pierce and Dirk they still could have pulled the trigger.
WHAT IF PIERCE HAD BEEN ADDED AND THEN “OPTED OUT”?
It’s been erroneously stated that Pierce has some sort of player option or opt-out in his contract for 2013-14. But that is not the case: there are no team or player options of any kind in his contract that can erase the final year of his deal.
What is true is that his final year is only partially guaranteed ($5M), if his team wants to waive him prior to June 30. But clearly that wouldn’t have been an issue, since the Mavs wouldn’t have traded for him just for the privilege of waiving him.
In our estimation, Pierce would have been a top 3 guy, just like Dirk, and could have changed the landscape for a while had he been acquired. He’s been a franchise player, used to carrying the load.
Adding him would have allowed the Mavs to continue the free agent chase in the summer of 2013 (assuming Marion was in the trade), and would have made the summer of 2014 even more fascinating. With a clean cap entering that summer, could they have gotten both Dirk Nowitzki and Pierce to sign reduced-dollar deals like Duncan’s and add a pair of young talents alongside?
And looking at the worst-case scenario, where things did not work out or needs changed, (a) Pierce only had a year left on his contract, and (b) he would have come with some trade value (exhibited by the fact that he would have been recently traded for Josh Smith, and have an expiring contract to boot).
But let’s keep our perspective here: we should offer no praise for what this team was “almost” able to do. Every team and profession has “almost” deals, but what sets apart the elite is the ability to actually get past the obstacles and close the deal that they want.
This summer the Mavs decision-makers will have another chance to show if they have the skills to begin to fix the mess that's been made of a once-elite squad.
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