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Clippers Off-Season 2016: Paul Pierce Leaning Towards Return

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According to Ben Bolch of the LA Times, Paul Pierce could be leaning towards a return.

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Paul Pierce's retirement saga has dragged on for quite some time now, and today we finally got an indication of what his decision will be: stay.

It's always hard to have too much of a kneejerk reaction to this, because you never want to be rude to someone who is on their way out.  There's also some chance, however small, that Pierce can work on his body or his shot and come into next season as an effective stretch four for spot minutes in small-ball.

But the far more likely outcome is that Pierce has a couple of successful 5-game runs where his body feels good, like last season, surrounded by the other 70 rather ugly games, which were a mix of rest and disappointment.

Paul Pierce's presence around the team is certainly a good thing and he brings a lot of leadership and experience, and even though it isn't tangible something like that can be just as value as another reliable player brought in for depth.  But, he could be around the team without using a roster spot and collecting his $3.5M salary--the two important ways his decision can alter the team's planning.

If Pierce returns, that's one less roster spot for the Clippers to add depth.  They're already at a full 15 (including Branden Dawson's non-guaranteed deal and the rights for second-round guys Diamond Stone and David Michineau), and they still have holes to fill.  I'd like to see them add one more SF or combo F to their rotation, so that Mbah a Moute and Wesley Johnson are not the Clippers' only options.  The Clippers are also rumored to be looking for a veteran point guard to fill Pablo Prigioni's role.  So where do they find the roster spots?  Well, Pierce retiring would help.  They could add one more guy, and be done for the summer, or dump one prospect to add two more guys.

But, with Pierce on the roster, the Clippers will have to cut Branden Dawson or send David Michineau back to Europe for a year to free up one spot, and do both to free up two spots.  That means that Pierce's decision to play again at age 39 could alter the careers of two guys who are 16 and 17 years younger than him.

His decision will also have ramifications on Steve Ballmer's pocketbook.  The Clippers are going to end up narrowly in the category of luxury tax payers, which is regrettable, because they've paid the tax each of the last three seasons and are now in repeater territory (where the penalties are much higher).  Avoiding the tax, if possible, helps Ballmer save a little money now and potentially a lot down the road.

If Pierce retires, the Clippers replace his $3.5M with a $980k minimum-salaried player and end up with enough breathing room under the tax line to navigate the season (about $2M).  If he stays, it becomes a complex juggling act to trim $550k over the course of the season and end up under the tax.