If this were, say, 10 years ago and both Tim Duncan and Paul Pierce were hitting free agency July 1, the NBA landscape already would be quivering in anticipation. At 39 and 37 years old, however, and with 2,980 regular season and playoff games behind them, Duncan and Pierce aren’t the A-listers they once were.
But their situations still will have ripple effects on several teams, and potentially players such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Otto Porter Jr., Mike Dunleavy Jr., and rookies from the Class of ’15.
First, consider Duncan and the difference now from a year ago. Back then, lots of people thought that a successful title defense in 2014-15 by San Antonio might prompt the greatest of all Spurs to walk away this summer. The repeat didn’t happen but Duncan had a strong season – eerily so, if you look at the consistency of his per-36 stat – and now looms large in San Antonio’s plans. Here is Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express News on Duncan’s pivotal role in seeking and signing other talent:
It is how, and when, the Spurs and Duncan agree on a new deal that will determine how the club approaches the most important summer since 2000, when a 24-year-old Duncan became a free agent for the first time and received an offer from the Orlando Magic that was too good not to consider seriously.
With 10 players hitting free agency on July 1 the Spurs have only six players under contract for next season. Those six — Kyle Anderson, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, Tony Parker, Tiago Splitter and Reggie Williams (non-guaranteed) — have salaries totaling about $34.2 million.
But NBA rules require all teams to “hold” at least 12 players at all times, and the Spurs can only retain their free agency rights to Duncan, [Manu] Ginobili, Jeff Ayres, Aron Baynes, Marco Belinelli, Matt Bonner, Danny Green, Cory Joseph and Kawhi Leonard by putting them on their player list with salary cap hold figures that presume salary increases.
The cap holds put the Spurs way over the projected $67 million salary cap.
There are several NBA player personnel executives who believe the Spurs will offer Duncan a two-year contract that begins between $6 million and $7 million, with a partial guarantee and a player option in the second season.
If Duncan doesn’t exercise the option, he gets, say, 50 percent of that season’s salary. In effect, his salary for next season would remain over $10 million, the partially guaranteed portion of the second season’s salary remaining on the Spurs team salary after the cap explodes with the NBA’s new TV money kicking in for 2016-17.
“You can call it a ‘wink-wink’ deal if you want to,” said an Eastern Conference team executive.” It’s what they did with [Antonio] McDyess, so why not for Duncan.”
Then there is Pierce, who sounded on the verge of retirement after his last-second shot against Atlanta in Game 6 of their East semifinals series barely missed beating the buzzer. According to Wizards beat writer Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Pierce is definitely planning to play again next season, with the big question being where: Washington or Los Angeles, for his old pal Doc Rivers and the Clippers?
Here is a taste of Castillo’s report, which delves into the impact of Pierce’s choice on Porter, on the Wizards and on assorted free agents or player Washington could select in Thursday’s talent roundup:
Pierce emphasized he loved his year with the Wizards, guiding the Wizards’ young core and getting another crack at the postseason in a more diminished role. And just because he opts out his contract doesn’t mean he won’t stay in the District; Pierce, who turns 38 in October, could sign a one-year deal for more than $5.5 million to stick around, which would also help the Wizards keep the flexibility they desire for the much anticipated summer of 2016.
The Clippers will likely only be able to offer Pierce the mini-mid-level exception of $3.37 million, but they are arguably closer to hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy than the Wizards — even in the tough Western Conference — and provide Pierce two amenities the Wizards cannot: A return home and a reunion with Rivers. Pierce grew up in Los Angeles and Rivers, now the Clippers’ maestro as the organization’s coach and general manager, coached him for nine seasons with the Boston Celtics. They won the title together there in 2008.
Rivers had a chance to nab the future Hall of Famer last summer, but opted to give the Clippers’ full mid-level exception to Spencer Hawes. The decision proved to be catastrophic as Hawes was buried on the Clippers bench for most of the campaign and was traded along with Matt Barnes to the Charlotte Hornets for swingman Lance Stephenson earlier this week.
Like his arrival, Hawes’s departure could have a direct impact on Pierce: In a radio interview Wednesday, Rivers said he prefers Stephenson coming off the bench and will look for a starting small forward elsewhere this summer. ESPN then reported the Clippers are considering Pierce.
So what would the Wizards do if Pierce decides to take a pay cut and return to the City of Angels for one final hurrah?
One thing is almost certain: Porter Jr., who enjoyed a breakout in the playoffs, would start at small forward. But Washington’s depth and scoring would take a hit regardless. Rasual Butler is a 35-year-old free agent. Martell Webster is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract but the 28-year-old was ineffective after his third back surgery in four years. Garrett Temple is a wing option but is better suited as a two-guard and emergency point guard.