Report: If Celtics deal Pierce, they will make sign-and-trade offer for Josh Smith

The Celtics have until June 30th to make a decision on whether to buyout Paul Pierce (for $5 million), or pick up his $15.3 million option. While the buyout would clear $10.3 million in salary, the Celtics would receive nothing in return for Pierce, something that would seemingly be unappealing to Danny Ainge.

The other option (besides keeping him of course), is to pick up the option and trade him for assets. In the past week we've heard Pierce linked to both Cleveland and Milwaukee, teams well under the salary cap who could take Pierce's deal in exchange for a draft pick(s), without sending any money back to Boston. Of course, this is intriguing to Ainge and the Celtics, as it would not only save $15.3 million and acquire an asset (the pick(s)), but allow them to acquire a trade exception. That trade exception could then be dealt for a player making the same amount of money, a huge asset in today's NBA as it allows teams over the cap to deal for big money players without having to match salaries.

If the Celtics are able to deal Pierce and pick up an exception, it appears that they have their next move planned. Make a sign-and-trade offer for Josh Smith. From the Sporting News.

If the Celtics can unload Pierce to a team with enough cap space to absorb his salary, they will get a trade exception worth Pierce’s salary, or $15.3 million. And if that happens, the plan is already in place. According to a source, the Celtics have a sign-and-trade offer ready for Atlanta forward Josh Smith that would be the top priority in free agency.

Smith has long been connected to Boston in trade rumors, including one that would have sent Pierce to Atlanta in February. His link to the current Celtics dates back to high school, when he played with point guard Rajon Rondo at Oak Hill.

In order to land Smith, though, the Celtics need to pull off a deal for Pierce that will net them a trade exception. Because teams over the salary cap can’t take on salary without sending back matching salaries, Boston’s options are limited to teams under the cap. That’s why two teams that have been connected to a Pierce deal have been Cleveland and Milwaukee.

But sources told Sporting News that there is some trepidation when it comes to trading for Pierce, because he has let it be known that if he must leave Boston, he wants to play for a contender. He could do that—most likely joining Rivers in Los Angeles—if the Celtics buy him out. But not if he is traded. The Cavaliers, for example, don’t want to trade for Pierce if he does not want to be there.

A source indicated that any potential Pierce-to-Cleveland deal is, “a longshot.”

There is some skepticism about Milwaukee’s interest in Pierce, too. The Bucks were close to landing Smith via trade in February, and Smith is willing to go to Milwaukee in free agency. While the Celtics would be able to offer Smith a deal starting at $15 million—the value of the trade exception they’d get for trading Pierce—the Bucks could offer a full max deal, starting at $17.5 million.

If the Bucks are in a better position to land Smith in free agency, they would not have much incentive to instead take on the 35-year-old Pierce, and help Boston get Smith instead.

This article touches on some of the reasons this deal is a long shot, but let's discuss.

1. Smith could only get $15 million a year with the Celtics in this scenario, but $17.5 with the Bucks (or any other team with cap room). The question then becomes, is playing with Rondo worth $2.5 million a year? If the Celtics also agreed to terms of an extension with RR, maybe Smith is willing to take a little less.

2. Dealing an unhappy Pierce is tricky. He's been a good soldier for 15 years, so suddenly shipping him out for a lost season in Cleveland or Milwaukee is a pretty awful going away present. Of course those teams could always deal him at the deadline to a contender, but Pierce will be 36 next season, so he no doubt wants to either be in Boston, or contending for a title elsewhere.

3. Milwaukee and Cleveland don't want an unhappy Pierce. This one doesn't need much explanation, but dealing for a guy who clearly wants to be elsewhere is never a good business move

4. Boston would still have to reach an agreement with Atlanta, and it's unknown what their asking price will be. Atlanta may be hesitant to deal Smith to a potential Eastern Conference contender without receiving at least a first round pick in return. The Hawks could tell Boston that they'd rather Smith head to a rather talent-barren Milwaukee team unless the Celts give them something of value in return.

Of all the potential issues, numbers 2-3 are the trickiest. If the Celtics end up dealing their captain somewhere he doesn't want to be, backlash will be pretty significant. And considering many Celtics fans are not even big fans of Smith's game, it's hard to imagine the majority of C's fans getting behind a Rondo-Smith led club.

Obviously they are both immensely talented, but both also have their issues. Neither is particularly coachable (and the Celtics appear ready to hire a young, unproven coach), and both struggle to give maximum effort every night.

So the question then becomes, is this deal worth it? You (potentially) ruin your franchises relationship with Pierce, only to sign on to a future led by two immensely talented, but also immensely frustrating players.

Just doesn't seem like something I'd willingly sign up for. Even if a Rondo-Bradley-Green-Sullinger-Smith team would be one of the fastest in the NBA.

What do you guys think? Let us know in the comment section.

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