Trying to Connect the Dots

The rumors are flying. Do any of them have merit? Is there any truth (no pun intended) in any of them?

What we do seem to know regarding Paul Pierce is that there is an offer from Cleveland and that Milwaukee and now Minnesota are said to have interest. Marc Stein has reported that PP won't go to either the Cavs or the Bucks because Danny will try to work with him to make sure he goes to a contender. What is not clear is whether there is something in the works with a contender or if that is just a goal. The asking price is said to be a first round pick although no year is specified. If that is the case, it would mean the Celtics would get a Traded Player Exception and that the receiving team would need to have the cap space to absorb his contract.

If we take those scraps and work backwards, there are only 16 teams that could take on the salary. Of those teams, only four made the playoffs last year. It could be argued though that four others would have made the playoffs if they had had Pierce. So for now let's include them.

Of these eight teams, Milwaukee was already ruled out by Stein. It should also be safe to eliminate Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas as they will not consider Pierce or anyone else until they know they have lost the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. Now we are down to four.

For the would be contender Portland, bringing in Pierce would eat every bit of their available space. They still need a center and bench help so it is unlikely they would go for it. Minnesota if healthy would have contended and have expressed some interest. Flip Saunders is there now and was a special consultant to Doc at the end of the 11-12 season. But they have an unresolved player option with Kirilenko that could take out their cap space unless they make some other moves in a hurry. I would say this one is doubtful.

This brings us down to two. Utah just missed the playoffs last year. It appears they will let Al Jefferson walk, so that is 18 points per game they need to replace. They only have about 18 million in guaranteed salary on the books for next season so they could easily not only take on Pierce's salary, but Garnett's as well and still be able to make other moves. The question is, would they want to? They appear to be in full rebuild, yet they might want to stay relevant during the process. And they are not known for their defense. Who better to set the current young guys on that path? In the end, I can't picture them giving up picks while they are rebuilding and I can't picture PP or KG as wanting to go there.

So who is left? San Antonio. They are definitely contenders having just suffered a heartbreaking defeat for the Title where Pierce could easily have made all the difference. Duncan has one more year on his contract (with an option for one more) and the Spurs would like nothing better than to get him one more ring. They have the cap space and giving up their #28 pick would not hurt them in a weak draft. Plus they always seem to find quality no matter where they pick and would still have the #58 (the same place they found Manu Ginobli).

Let's speculate one step further. While they certainly like and have been patient with Tiago Splitter, he was almost unplayable against the Heat. The Spurs might decide it is time to pull the plug on him. He is due a qualifying offer somewhere between 4 and 6 million depending on the resource. Portland is rumored to be going after either him or Nikola Pekovic and an unrelated rumor said that their #9 pick could be available. If the Spurs extend the qualifying offer to Splitter and then trade him for the #9, Portland would sure be happy. And the Spurs would then have the cap space for Garnett also. Yes, I know that KG and Duncan are supposed to hate each other, but the chance of another Title for each, and the fact that everyone loves KG as a teammate, but not a competitor means it could work. There is also the contract similarity (next year with the option of one more). And finally, although KG wouldn't get to play for Doc, Greg Popovich is the coach that Doc "trained" under, so he might be willing to waive his no-trade clause.

Danny talked the other day about the deal with the Clippers being a win-win-win. I could picture this the same way. The Celtics get two first round picks, move a ton of payroll off the books, and have "done right" by their two stars by sending them to a definite contender. Portland would get their center. The Spurs would pretty much be a runaway train that would be near impossible to stop. And KG, PP, Duncan, and the rest would likely get one and possibly two more rings.

This just might be the blockbuster that no one sees coming.

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