Will Paul Pierce opt out of his contract?

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Paul Pierce has almost all there is to do in Boston. In 12 years with the Celtics, Pierce has been an All-Star many times. He’s won a Finals MVP award. He was with the team during the bad times and during its highest moment in recent years. He had both Kevin Garnett and Antoine Walker as running mates, and he made it work with both. In Boston, he is the Captain and The Truth. 
After all that, has Paul Pierce played his last game in a Celtics uniform? Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated has some thoughts on the matter:
There could be another member of the Big Three on the market, too. Pierce has a player option for $21.5 million next season. But with the collective bargaining agreement set to expire next summer and a new one expected to significantly reduce player salaries, several prominent players (including Dirk Nowitzki and Amar’e Stoudemire) are planning to opt out of lucrative contracts in order to sign new deals under the existing agreement. Pierce, 32, could leave the $21.5 million on the table with the expectation that he could score a contract worth $50 million to $60 million in the offseason.

At first blush, Pierce leaving the Celtics seems as likely as Boston erecting a Wilt Chamberlain statue outside of The Garden. Pierce and Co. came agonizingly close to a championship this season, Boston loves him, and he’s been with the team for over a decade. And 21 million dollars is a lot of money to leave on the table. 

But think about it for a second. Boston was able to make an incredible run in this year’s playoffs, but they looked downright old for most of the regular season. Outside of Rajon Rondo, the team is not getting any younger. Tom Thibodeau is gone, and Doc Rivers and Ray Allen may follow. 
If Pierce does leave Boston, where would he go? New York seems unlikely, especially since he plays the same position as the best young player the Knicks have under contract. New Jersey/Brooklyn could be a possibility, but that team is a long-term project at best. Minnesota and Washington seem like long shots. Chicago and Miami have their eyes set on bigger prizes. Sacramento would give the chance for Pierce to mentor Tyreke Evans, Carl Landry, Omri Casspi, Jason Thompson, Donte Greene, and the rest of the Kings’ young core, but Sacramento might be a bit far from the spotlight for Pierce’s liking.
The Clippers are an intriguing possibility. Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Paul Pierce, Blake Griffin, and Chris Kaman would be a heck of a starting lineup. The Clippers have a top-10 pick in the upcoming draft. Not only would the Clippers give Pierce the opportunity to play in a big market, but Los Angeles also happens to be Pierce’s hometown. (Besides, Clipper fans wouldn’t have lingering animosity towards Pierce, as Clipper fans are most assuredly not Laker fans.) The Clippers are a young team with a lot of talent, and Pierce’s basketball IQ, championship experience, and ability to control an offense are all qualities that could help the Clippers tremendously. 
Pierce probably won’t end up becoming a Clipper — not many players jump ship from the most successful franchise in NBA history to perhaps the least successful franchise in NBA history. And the Clippers themselves may be wary of signing Pierce after how poorly the whole “Baron Davis comes to the Clippers to save his hometown team” thing worked out. Still, it is something that both sides may want to ponder. 

D’Angelo Russell drops 40 on Magic including shot that put Nets up for good

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D'Angelo Russell is playing like a guy in a contract year. And that’s just fine with Brooklyn.

Russell tied his career best with 40 points Friday night against the Magic, including hitting the shot that put the Nets up for good on the night with 27 seconds remaining. Russell was 16-of-25 shooting, including 8-of-12 from three, and he was an analytics dream — Russell took all but one of his shots either in the paint or from three.

The Nets — now 24-23 on the season and the sixth seed in the East — came from 21 back to get the win and that included their guards hitting the big shots at the end.

First up was Spencer Dinwiddie.

Then came Russell’s shot that proved to be the game winner.

With the Nets extending Dinwiddie during the season, it’s unlikely Russell returns to Brooklyn next season, but a number of teams are interested in him as a free agent (restricted, the Nets can match if the offer is low).

Report: Isaiah Thomas could return to Nuggets right before All-Star break

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The Denver Nuggets have shown off their depth this season. Three starters — Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap — have missed a chunk of time and yet until a few days ago the Nuggets were the top seed in the West, and they are still a clear second.

And all of that without Isaiah Thomas, their biggest name reserve. He has been recovering from hip surgery last March.

The Nuggets are hoping Thomas will make his debut next month, right before the All-Star Break, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Thomas has been gathering momentum in his rehabilitation process from hip surgery in March, and there’s hope among Thomas and the Nuggets organization he could return as soon as a Feb. 11-13 homestand against Miami and Sacramento, sources said.

There’s strong confidence that he will return no later than the first game after the All Star break on Feb. 22 in Dallas, league sources said….

The final hurdle for Thomas remains playing full 5-on-5 scrimmages. He is expected to start that process soon.

Thomas was playing well and playing through pain in Boston, becoming a fan favorite and pulling that team into the postseason, before his hip injury caught up with him. He tried to recover without surgery playing for the Cavaliers and Lakers last season, but that never really worked like he hoped. He had the surgery and signed a one-year deal with the Nuggets.

Thomas could provide a playmaking guard off the bench, although Monte Morris has filled that role for the Nuggets so well he gets mentioned as a most improved player candidate. Coach Mike Malone will need to finesse the minutes to get both of them touches and involved. How much Thomas can help the Nuggets in the playoffs depends on how he recovers (he has always been a defensive liability because of his size, which factors in as well).

If Thomas can show he would have value as a bench player he will have teams calling next July about a much bigger contract. He has motivation, and he’s popular around the league — people want to see him succeed. But is he fully healthy and does he still have the lateral explosiveness that made him so hard to stop on drives to the rim? We should find out the final couple months of the season.

Report: Kings’ Buddy Hield in 3-point contest

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Players who’ve attempted more than seven 3-pointers per game while making more than 40% of them this season:

Sharing company with only the greatest shooter of all-time will earn Hield a spot in the 3-point contest.

Carmichael Dave of KHTK Sports 1140:

Sacramento getting three players into the Rising Stars Challenge for the second straight year speaks to the team’s nice collection of young talent. Bogdan Bogdanovic (who won MVP last year) and De'Aaron Fox return to the game. No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III replaces Hield, who ages out.

Hield has a chance in the 3-point contest, though the league is better from beyond the arc than ever. He’ll certainly have plenty of competition.

PBT Extra: Five players to watch heading into the NBA’s trade deadline

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It’s going to be a slow NBA trade deadline this year.

The reason it will be relatively quiet on Feb. 7 (the deadline day) this year is reflected in the five players to watch talked about in this PBT Extra. The bottom line: There are far more buyers than sellers.

Take Trevor Ariza in Washington, for example. A number of playoff teams are looking for wings on expiring contracts to help them out — the Rockets and Lakers are at the front of that line — but Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has said the team the team will not tank, so is Ariza even available.

Or, what about Terrence Ross in Orlando? Another wing a lot of teams have interest in, but is Orlando selling?

And while the Dallas Mavericks have made public overtures about reconciliation with Dennis Smith Jr., sources tell me the plan on both sides is still to find a trade, it’s just right now the offers are lowball ones (because the Mavs have no leverage and there will be good young point guards such as Terry Rozier and D'Angelo Russell available in July as restricted free agents, and teams like them better).

Still, there will be trades. These are the guys to watch.