Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Exploring Paul Pierce as a Trade Piece

Paul Pierce has been less than satisfied this season with the Brooklyn Nets.

To be fair, it's hard to blame him.

He's been a starter, then a bench player, then a starter again. He's lined up at shooting guard, small forward and power forward. He complained in December about his inconsistent playing time. An recently, according to Tim Bontemps of the New York Post, he is also dissatisfied with his perceived lack of effort from the Nets' bench players.

It's safe to say that Pierce's role has never been well-defined in Brooklyn. He was thrown onto a team where he is, frankly, a redundancy. Between himself, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and the Nets' supporting cast, Brooklyn has plenty of inside-outside scoring options. For 15 years with the Boston Celtics, he was the man – the primary scoring option every season. With the Nets, Pierce is the second, third, or fourth scoring option. His minutes are at a career low. It's something he's had a lot of trouble getting used to – scoring output (13.5 points per game) and field goal percentage (41.4%) are both also career lows.

Pierce was never expected to shoulder the offensive burden for the Nets – that was supposed to be up to Brooklyn's assumed nucleus of Williams, Johnson and Brook Lopez – and that's part of the problem. Pierce isn't a second fiddle. Pierce and Kevin Garnett were supposed to be ancillary players and provide support when the team needed it. But Pierce, by design, is not fit to be a member of a team's supporting cast.

Sometimes having a "Big Three" works and results in a championship (see: 2008 Boston Celtics, 2012-present Miami Heat). But a big five? It seemed audacious. The likes of this had never before been attempted in the NBA – hence, the Brooklyn Nets accumulated the highest payroll in league history. It was a mistake. It'll serve as a teaching tool for other franchises.

As it has been endlessly been pointed out, this Nets team was built to win now. But they're not winning. So what now?

The anticipated dream season unraveled rapidly. The organization's biggest fear came true when the Nets had to deal with (and are still dealing with) multiple injuries. The league's second-oldest team began taking (and is still taking) a bunch of hits. Only Shaun Livingston and Alan Anderson, who figured to be deep bench players before the season started, have played all 46 Nets games this season.

The team quickly had to adjust – and they've had to do it over and over again with countless failed trial-and-error-runs. Its struggle with establishing an identity was well-documented. The whole thing was, as it has been infamously referred to, "a process."

Now, it seems, the dust from the earth-shattering news of Lopez's season-ending foot injury is finally clearing. Brooklyn still has a lot of issues to work out, but at least players are beginning to figure out their roles. Livingston has become a starting guard who is a defensive terror and a remarkably efficient inside scorer. Garnett is a stalwart interior defender whose jumper is finally beginning to fall. Andray Blatche has become a solid scoring option off the bench and has finally settled down his play style. Andrei Kirilenko is one of the better glue guys in the league, doing a little bit of everything. Mirza Teletovic has finally found his stroke consistently and is Brooklyn's three-point specialist who can score in bunches.

Johnson has emerged as Brooklyn's best offensive weapon left standing, but he needs to prove it with more consistency. Playing alongside Pierce doesn't help.

We knew that the Boston experiment failed a long time ago, but at least Garnett has been able to salvage his season, to a degree. Pierce, although he's not the outright liability he was earlier in the season, still is looking for his role on a team that is starting to move past that stage. He just doesn't fit.

Pierce will make $15 million this season, and then his contract is up. It's almost certain that he won't stay a Net. He'll either retire (somewhat likely), go back to Boston for a farewell tour (unlikely), or reunite with Doc Rivers and sign with the Los Angeles Clippers for one last shot at a championship (most likely). Whichever path The Truth takes, I don't see him coming back to Brooklyn.

When you consider these two things – that the Nets have begun to adjust and Pierce is the odd man out, and that he is an expiring contract who will likely not re-sign – it makes sense that Billy King should see what options are available out there for potential deals.

So what do the Brooklyn Nets need? Their three most significant holes are:

• Guard depth (we saw on Monday what happened when the only reserves were Jason Terry and Marquis Teague)

Wing defense (Anderson is just not good enough and the Nets are still the worst in the league at defending the three), and

• Rebounding (this team set an NBA record for fewest rebounds in a game – enough said).

Moving Pierce for these three pieces could not only free up some money, but it would also fulfill dire needs and allow Terry, Teague, and Reggie Evans to slide further down the bench.

The way I see it, there are two types of teams that would likely target Pierce: fringe playoff teams in need of outside scoring to make the push into the postseason, and bad teams looking to complete the tank and free up salary cap space. I've tinkered with ESPN's trade machine and come up with a few possibilities.

Pierce to the Denver Nuggets for Andre Miller, Wilson Chandler, and J.J. Hickson

I stole this one from Zach Lowe of Grantland because it's a good one. (If you haven't read his column on the Nets, check it out.) Denver gets the outside scorer that they're missing with Danilo Gallinari missing the entire season. They also get an experienced, highly competent player to go along with Ty Lawson at a position where they severely lack in offensive prowess. Clearing out Miller is obviously a good thing for the Nuggets' locker room and unloading Hickson allows JaVale McGee (when he returns from injury) and Timofey Mozgov to show Brian Shaw what they're really worth. The Nuggets are currently 23-23 and are two spots out of the eighth seed. In a crowded Western Conference, this trade might not be enough to put them over the top, but it would help them climb a bit higher and maybe nab that seven or eight seed.

For Brooklyn, this trade fulfills all three needs. In Miller, the Nets get a guy who is among the savviest, most basketball-intelligent players in the game who can actually still play. He can be an incredibly effective leader for the Nets' second unit, which looks completely lost when guys like Terry and Teague handle the ball. They call him the Professor for a reason.

Chandler represents a huge upgrade over Anderson at the wing spot. He's bigger, smarter, and just flat out better on both sides of the ball. He's a good three point shooter (makes 2.0 per game this season) and a fearsome wing defender that can guard four positions. Basically, he's a better version of Anderson in almost every conceivable way and he lets #6 slide further down the pine where he belongs.

Hickson is undersized for a center at 6'9", but is a dynamic rebounder. Last season in Portland, he averaged a double-double, grabbing 10.4 rebounds per game in just 29 minutes. This year, he's pulling down 9.3 boards in just 27.6 minutes per game. That's 12.1 per 36 minutes. It's exactly what the Nets need – a great rebounder and an efficient scorer under the basket. Acquiring Hickson also lets Garnett slide back over to power forward, where he prefers to play. His relatively small size could actually be a benefit to Brooklyn: imagine a starting five of Livingston, Williams, Johnson, Garnett and Hickson. That's 6'7", 6'3", 6'7", 6'11" and 6'9" in order. Matchup nightmares.

A starting five of Livingston, Williams, Johnson, Garnett and Hickson is decent. But a second unit of Miller, Chandler, Kirilenko, Teletovic and Blatche is what really would set this team apart. That is a scary bench squad right there. The Nets could win a lot of games with this team.

Pierce to the Charlotte Bobcats for Ramon Sessions, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Bismack Biyombo

Believe it or not, there are actually rumors that the Horncats might want to shop the formerly highly-touted draft pick Kidd-Gilchrist. As they begin their rebranding season in the summer, Charlotte is desperate for a playoff berth this year and it makes sense that they would want a veteran offensive player. They're just barely clutching onto the final spot with Detroit and New York biting at their heels. MKG is flat out not a good scorer right now; Pierce obviously is. The Bobcats have the third lowest scoring team in the league – they need offense. The Truth could be the final piece to go with Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson that the Cats need to stay in the hunt for a playoff seed.

Kidd-Gilchrist, many people around the league believe, will eventually become one of the NBA's premier defenders. He would certainly be a welcome addition to the Nets squad, patrolling the perimeter and playing great on-ball defense. While his offensive game is still very much in the preliminary stages of development, he has everything you could want from a defensive player: length, speed, strength, quick hands, and a vicious mentality. Great fit for the Nets.

Biyombo doesn't do much besides clog the paint and pull down rebounds, but that's all the Nets would need him for anyway. He's small for a center (6'9"), but has great athleticism (body fat percentage of 4.8%), leaping ability, and an extremely long wingspan of 7'7", a perfect fit in the new-look long-armed Nets defense. He's a good shot blocker who is active in the paint. He doesn't play a whole lot for Charlotte with Jefferson there, but he's a good enough center and a solid piece.

Sessions is a pretty underrated player in this league. He's a speedy guard who's bounced around from team to team and, in Charlotte, has shown that he actually kind of has a knack for scoring. He's not much of a shooting threat at all (40% from the field, just 19% from beyond the arc), but he's a decent ball handler who can drive to the basket. Most importantly, though, he ensures that Terry and Teague don't play.

This trade, like the first one, gives Brooklyn a lot of depth and size. Imagine a starting lineup of Livingston - Williams - Johnson - Garnett - Biyombo with a bench of Sessions - Kidd-Gilchrist - Kirilenko - Teletovic - Blatche. MKG and Kirilenko could combine to be the strongest wing defending bench duo in the league.

Pierce to the Orlando Magic for Jameer Nelson, Moe Harkless, and Kyle O'Quinn

It's been a rough few years for Orlando. After making the NBA Finals, the franchise went through the extremely hard-to-watch "Dwightmare" saga and ultimately lost the star center. They've been in rebuilding mode for a few years now and, as such, have worked themselves into a weird situation where they sort of have too many similar players. Harkless, O'Quinn, Tobias Harris and Andrew Nicholson are all great prospects who seem like they could develop into good to very good players, but they all play the same two positions. There's simply not enough room on this team for everyone to grow at the same time. It seems like the odd men out here are Harkless and O'Quinn, which makes the two Queens natives perfect for this trade scenario.

Harkless was putting together a nice little rookie season for himself last year before Harris arrived and began playing lights out over the final month or so. Harkless is just 20 years old, so there's still plenty of room for him to grow – just not on the same team as Harris. He's had a disappointing offensive output this season, no doubt, but the Nets wouldn't really need him to score much anyway. Known as a primarily defensive player, Harkless has averaged 1.2 steals per game in just about 25 minutes over his career and is a very good on-ball defender. He'd nestle in perfectly to that wing spot the Nets need so badly and take over a lot of Anderson's minutes.

O'Quinn works great as a Reggie Evans replacement, only with more defense and a decent midrange jumper. Not much more to say than that. He was Defensive Player of the Year in his conference during college and is a formidable shot blocker and rim protector. He's also a prolific rebounder and that midrange game of his is intriguing. He is severely, severely underused in Orlando, averaging a measly 13.3 points per game, as the Magic have favored Glen Davis, Harris and Nicholson over him. Per 36 minutes, O'Quinn averages 11.3 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.2 blocks, and 1.1 steals. Orlando has completely squandered his talents. He's flying way under people's radars and I think, given the opportunity, O'Quinn can develop into a very, very nice player. Come home, Kyle.

Last but not least is Jameer Nelson. Nelson, in my mind, is also an underrated player. He's never been a great midrange shooter or cutter, but he's racked up 7 assists per game over the last two seasons with the Magic. He's a good passer, a great dribbler and a pretty good ball handler with nice range. When he's not shooting, he keeps a level head on offense and somehow creates opportunities for teammates in Orlando's putrid offensive scheme. The Magic have been trying to trade him for what seems like forever now. He could be a dynamic bench player for Brooklyn.

Orlando has done a great job of acquiring young talent, but the problem is that they've accumulated too many redundancies. The organization has made it clear that they intend to build the team around Harris, sensational rookie Victor Oladipo and rebounding machine Nikola Vucevic. That leaves guys like Harkless and O'Quinn out in the cold. No reason the Nets shouldn't capitalize on that. Not many high-profile players, but three very good pieces. A starting lineup of Livingston - Williams - Johnson - Garnett - Blatche with a second unit of Nelson - Harkless - Kirilenko - Teletovic - O'Quinn is intriguing and has a lot of room to grow together.


I also considered Pierce to the Milwaukee Bucks for O.J. Mayo, Larry Sanders and Gary Neal but Sanders and Mayo just seem way too risky. I toyed with Pierce to the Los Angeles lakers for Pau Gasol, Jodie Meeks and Wesley Johnson, but the Lakers are really only interested in high draft picks right now, it seems. I tried to work something out with the Clippers, but they just don't have the personnel to make a good trade. Other fringe playoff teams like the Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves need scoring small forwards, but they just don't have the right guys for a trade, either (Grizzlies can't afford Pierce's contract for the right pieces, Pelicans don't have a rebounder to give, Wolves have absolutely zero depth as it is). How about you, readers? Ideas? Share them below.

Summing Up

Again – it's still kind of sad to say it, but Pierce hasn't worked out. It's time to move on; the Nets can't afford to be passive at the trade deadline and Pierce is probably the best trade piece Brooklyn has. No, they won't trade Deron Williams. I don't think anybody would take his contract anyway. No, they won't trade Brook Lopez. His trade value is the lowest it's ever been and he's still only 25.

What do you think, Nets fans? Is trading Paul Pierce a good idea?

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  1. Really liking the Denver trade. Also the Bobcats one sounds good. If either happened I'd be pretty happy. Fantastic write-up Malcolm.

    1. Thanks man. I'd have to say those are my two favorites as well. As much as I'd like to keep Pierce, the only value he has to this team is what he can do for the rest of the season, since he's not coming back next year, and that's not that much. I think he's also the most tradeable legitimate asset Brooklyn has right now. They can't afford to be idle at the deadline so I think it'd be wise to turn him into several pieces to add youth and depth, both really big needs.


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