The Nets had every opportunity to re-sign free agent Paul Pierce. They owned his full Bird rights, meaning that they could sign him for any amount up to the maximum salary, even though they were over the cap and into ludicrous luxury-tax territory. They had the means, in the form of a billionaire owner who’d free-wheeled his way into three players on their maximum contracts.
But in the end, Pierce surprised everyone by inking a two-year deal with the Washington Wizards late on a weekend night, announcing his intentions to make his house closer to the White House on Twitter at 1 AM EST.
Obama , J Wall here I come
— Paul Pierce (@paulpierce34) July 13, 2014
So why did Pierce end up going? Why did the Nets decide not to match, or beat, Pierce’s offer from the Wizards?
According to Nets general manager Billy King, who spoke on Monday afternoon at at NBA Cares event in Staten Island, there were a multitude of reasons. One was timing:
King indicated in June that he wanted to re-sign Pierce.
“That was the plan of attack,” King said Monday at an NBA Cares event on Staten Island. “And I think as we started negotiations, with the numbers that they asked for, I thought at one point he was definitely leaving. You start switching gears because you start hearing that he’s going to end up in another place, so you have to start preparing.”
King said Pierce’s representatives circled back to the Nets, but they already had plans to retool the roster in other ways, operating under the notion that Pierce’s bags were packed.
“It was his first time ever being a free agent, and so I think he was exploring all his options,” King said. “I thought that there were a lot of teams that had put offers on the table or were talking to him. I really thought that he was going to end up someplace else. I don’t know who, but it was one [free agent] player signed and things quickly changed. We had already started preparing that he was already not going to be back.”
King added that the team’s payroll, which hit roughly $200 million when including the luxury tax, coach salaries, and amnesty payments, also had to be reduced.
“Our goal is not to be where we were,” King said, referring to the Nets’ record payroll and luxury-tax bill last season of over $190 million. “We got there last year, but that wasn’t the intent when we started.
“We wanted to reduce payroll a little bit, but if we felt there were deals out there that made sense, we would’ve kept going.”
As we noted at the time Pierce signed, the additional cost of re-signing Pierce to the Wizards contract would’ve cost the Nets an extra $17 million in luxury tax payments, and would’ve put them in punitive luxury tax peril next year.
The Nets bolstered their depth in Pierce’s absence, adding 2013 first-round pick Sergey Karasev and bringing over their 2011 draft-and-stash forward Bojan Bogdanovic.
Pierce’s impact won’t be forgotten, particularly after his first-round performance against the Toronto Raptors that began with him icing Game 1 with three big shots late in the fourth quarter and ended with him blocking Kyle Lowry’s potential game-winning layup at the buzzer in Game 7. But Pierce will also be 37 by the time opening day rolls around, and that’s a big price to pay for someone who struggled beyond that first round.