Update: Ainge speaks (Herald)
Should Pierce sign elsewhere, Ainge said that doesn't mean the Celtics' chances at another NBA title over the next two years would necessarily be aborted.
"There's too many other things that factor in right now,'' said Ainge. "Who else can we get? But it's not all dependent on getting Paul back. I don't think it all rests on his shoulders.''
Ainge would rather negotiate with Pierce than renounce his rights, pointing to the fact that the Celtics general manager still believes that his captain still wants to return - albeit at a heavy cost that could tie up the team's flexibility for four more years.
"We were negotiating an extension in good faith,'' said Ainge. "He's worked hard to become a free agent, but I still think that in his heart of hearts he still wants to stay in Boston.
"It's all a negotiation,'' he said. "Risk is involved in all of these things. But I'm telling him that we would like him to come back and make another run at a title.''
Here's the latest news on Paul Pierce, courtesy of ESPN:
Pierce's agent, Jeff Schwartz, told ESPN.com that Pierce has notified the Boston Celtics that he will opt out of the final year of his contract before Wednesday's deadline to do so, which will make Pierce an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.
"Pierce is opting out" said Schwartz in a text message to ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan.
By opting out, Pierce will forfeit next season's $21.5 million salary but becomes eligible to sign a new four-year deal with the Celtics worth a maximum of $96 million and can receive four-year offers from other teams worth a maximum $93 million.
Sources said that Pierce will begin free agency by talking first to the Celtics when the market opens on Thursday at 12:01 a.m., but the 32-year-old will field other offers.
Analysis after the break.
It remains unclear what Pierce's intentions are at this point. Is he opting out in order to work out a new extension? Or is he opting out in order to legitimately test the free agent waters? Jeff posted the excerpt from WEEI's 'Green Street' blog discussing the possibility of Pierce signing a multi-year deal worth a dollar amount that works for both him and the Celtics. But, the possibility nevertheless remains that Pierce could be holding out in hopes that one last max deal (or something close to that) is on the table elsewhere, perhaps with a team like the Los Angeles Clippers (whether or not Pierce is still a max contract player at this point in his career is debatable). Despite the talent pool in this free agent class, some teams will lose out on the LeBrons and Wades of the world, and might end up somewhat desperate to sign an aging star.
Obviously, if you're a Celtics fan, you'd like to see Pierce sign a multi-year deal worth less money that saves the Celtics some cap room this summer. Pierce reiterated several times over the course of last season that he wants to remain in Boston and eventually retire as a member of the Celtics, and him singing a multi-year deal with Boston this summer is the best situation to help that specific scenario continue to unfold.
If Pierce is indeed planning on re-signing with the Celtics, the number of years the deal runs for could be where the true debate comes in. As Paul Flannery points out, the Celtics might be looking to structure a two-year deal that expires after the 2011-2012 season - the same season that Kevin Garnett's current contract expires. But, Pierce could be looking for a deal that runs for three or possibly even four years.
Updates: Twitter / Chad Ford:
If Pierce & Ray Allen bolt Boston, Celtics will have around $15 mil in cap room to spend this summer
Paul Flannery: What Paul Pierce’s opt out means for the Celtics
The Celtics still retain Bird rights on Pierce and Ray Allen, which allows them to go over to the cap to re-sign both of them. That remains the best course of action for Ainge. Despite their status as free agents, Pierce and Allen are still tied to the Celtics cap in the form of cap holds at around $20 million each until they sign a new deal. The Celtics would have to renounce both players, as well as the remaining six free agents on the roster, in order to get significantly under the cap to pursue free agents. There is a chance that a team like the Clippers, Nets or Knicks could make a run at Pierce if they fail to sign LeBron James.The big question on new deals for Pierce, and for Allen, is the length. Ainge would prefer to tie everything back to Kevin Garnett's contract, which has two years remaining, but he may be forced to go to three, or even four years in Pierce's case.