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Pierce Opts Out in Washington, Making a Homecoming Possible

According to reports from this weekend, the Clippers' chances at Paul Pierce have grown to be more than a pipe dream.

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For a while now, there have been hints and rumors that Paul Pierce would reunite with Doc Rivers in LA.  It hasn't just been for the last couple of months, it's been for the last couple of years, and finally it seems to be more than a speculative pipe dream, as the David Aldridge rumor that followed the Clippers and Wizards being booted from the playoffs has now been followed up with multiple reports that Pierce will opt out of the final year of his mid-level contract in Washington, turning down over $5.5 million.  The Truth isn't retiring, but he very well may be relocating.

Simply put, Pierce deciding to come to LA makes sense.  He wants to play for a contender.  He has a strong relationship with Doc Rivers.  He's an Inglewood HS alumni with strong LA roots.  The only issue of late has been fit: the Clippers have had other needs, Pierce has wanted more money, or both.  But now, entering what would seem sure to be his final NBA campaign, the stars may finally align for the former champion.

The Clippers have holes, and SF is one of them.  Not just starting SF.  Not just a veteran presence or a shooter off the bench.  They currently have no small forwards on the roster, and while Lance Stephenson is certainly a capable option at the position, Doc Rivers has already made it clear that he expects Lance to be a utility player off of the bench rather than the full-time starter.

Paul Pierce, age aside, is one hell of a get at the position.  On the short list of All-Time great SF's, he'll break 26,000 career points in 2016 and has a championship ring on his finger.  He's got the shooting ability, the scoring touch, and the leadership to be an excellent addition to any of the 30 teams, which is why the Clippers have to hope that HE wants THEM, instead of the other way around.

However, if the team does sign Pierce, they'll need to plan carefully and add the right pieces around him to make the roster work.  If Wilson Chandler was the big SF acquisition, for example, the Clippers would have to work quite differently around him.  Chandler has the ability to play more minutes on a nightly basis than Pierce, and has contrasting strengths--athleticism and defensive potential versus Pierce's 38-year-old body--and weaknesses, including being a questionable three-point shooter and having limited playoff experience.

With Pierce, it's unclear whether he would even be the starter or not.  At 38 (I know, I'm reminding you of his age as much as Ralph Lawler reminded us of Grant Hill's) it might not be the best plan to start him or play him heavy minutes, especially given the empty shoes of Matt Barnes, which suggests guarding the other team's best wing scorer.  The team would probably be best served with another player starting for defensive purposes, and Pierce coming off of the bench to help the second unit with scoring, where Austin Rivers and Lance Stephenson could cover him defensively.  However, it's unclear what his expectations are--remember that this is a future Hall of Famer who has started all but 10 of his 1,250 career NBA games, including all 73 appearances last season in Washington.  If Pierce is to start, the second unit could probably use some shooting to help out spacing with Rivers and Stephenson playing together, but if Pierce is going to come off of the bench, the Clippers could opt to pursue a more Barnes-esque starter to play relatively low minutes, like Alonzo Gee.

Either way, Pierce is the big domino.  He'll likely be better sooner than anyone else that the Clippers sign using the mMLE or minimum, and probably better this year than any of the Jamal trade targets as well.  Once he falls (and we find out whether the Clippers land him via a Jamal trade--impossible if he declines his option, the mMLE, or the vet's minimum), the Clippers can move forward by filling out the roster around him and the other key contributors.