In an interview explaining how he ended up signing with the Wizards in free agency this summer, Paul Pierce said that part of the reason that the Nets didn’t want to bring him back was that the team was going in a different direction — one he believed was not geared toward its previously stated goal of trying to contend for a title on a yearly basis.
“Brooklyn’s been, or New Jersey, Brooklyn, they’re a franchise that’s going in a different direction, I think,” Pierce told NBA.com. “They said they wanted to cut costs, they felt like they weren’t going to be a contender. Right now, they’re kind of in the middle right now. And I really didn’t want to be in the middle. I didn’t know if they wanted to do a sign-and-trade. I had to make my own destiny. I couldn’t put it in the faith of somebody else. And that’s when I was like, I’m coming here.”
The cutting costs part was true, in that Brooklyn paid an insane amount in luxury tax last season, and re-signing Pierce would have cost an additional $20 million in tax penalties.
But as for the part about not contending, that’s where Nets GM Billy King believes that Pierce is wrong.
“What he was told and what I said was not the truth,” King said before the Nets’ 111-94 preseason win over Maccabi Tel-Aviv Tuesday night inside Barclays Center in their preseason opener. “But I respect Paul, I’m happy he’s still playing. I’m happy he played and did well for us last year, but he’s with the Wizards now, and we’re here.
“Our goal is to still to try to win a championship. We’re not taking steps back or anything like that. We’re trying to build a team we think can win.”
Brooklyn could be just as good this year even without Pierce, as long as Brook Lopez remains healthy and returns to his All-Star caliber form that he showed before going down last season with a foot fracture. And by most accounts, Deron Williams looks to be similarly rejuvenated at this early stage, and when you add in a tenured and well-respected head coach in Lionel Hollins leading the way, the Nets may not see much slippage.
Pierce was an important component of the Nets last season, and had the team’s signature highlight that allowed them to get to the second round of the playoffs. He’ll be missed, but his being allowed to leave was more about dollars than it was about a decision to go in a different direction in terms of wins and losses.