Report: Pierce to opt out of Celtics contract

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ESPN.com’s Marc Stein is reporting that Celtics forward Paul Pierce will opt out of the final year of his contract with the team, making him an unrestricted free agent this summer. The last year of his contract was worth 21.5 million dollars. Pierce has been a Celtic since Boston drafted him in 1998. 
While this news could be the first step towards the dismantling of the Celtics, the more likely story is that Pierce’s decision was motivated by the current and future NBA economic climate. This summer will be one of the biggest free agency summers ever. Next summer might be a different story entirely. 
The current collective bargaining agreement expires after this season, and many experts believe there will be a lockout or labor dispute of some kind. If a labor stoppage does occur, top free agents may have to wait to get a contract. 
There is also the distinct possibility that the next CBA could be much less player-friendly than the current one. Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal both had their gigantic pre-CBA contracts grandfathered in when the last CBA was signed; the same thing will likely happen for all the free agents that sign a max or near-max deal this off-season. Because of that and the possibility of a lockout, there is major incentive for players to get a deal done this summer instead of the summer of 2011, especially since so many teams have cap space now.
Some of the teams with cap space to burn will likely make a play for Pierce this summer. Pierce’s hometown Clippers, who have a hole at small forward, will almost certainly have some interest in Pierce if they can’t pull off a miracle and sign LeBron James. It’s possible that Pierce will end up with the Clippers, but the more likely scenario is that Pierce will use the Clippers’ perceived interest as leverage and pressure the Celtics into giving him a multi-year deal. 
Assuming Stein’s report is accurate, both Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are now unrestricted free agents. The Celtics hold both Allen and Pierce’s “Bird rights,” meaning that they can pay both Allen and Pierce regardless of Boston’s salary cap number. Because of Boston’s encouraging playoff run and those “Bird rights,” Boston will likely be able to keep the “Big Three” together if they really want to. 
However, keeping both Pierce and Allen will cost a lot of money, and both players showed their age at times last season. The time for Danny Ainge and Co. to make some tough choices about the future of the Celtics is now. In the coming weeks, we’ll see just how much Ainge is willing to pay for the chance to give Rajon Rondo and the “Big Three” one or two more chances at raising banner #18. 

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.