Is Pierce best realistic fit for Mavs at SF?

Once upon a time, the Dallas Mavericks were heavily criticized for passing on polished Kansas prospect Paul Pierce to draft some goofy German kid who wasn’t ready for the NBA.

Dirk Nowitzki turned out to be a decent player, to say the least. So did Pierce. They’re both destined to spend eternity in Springfield, Mass., the site of the basketball Hall of Fame.

But Nowitzki and Pierce both believe they’ve still got some good basketball left in those legs that have logged 16 NBA seasons. Ages after they went back to back in the 1998 draft – the ninth and 10th picks, after forgettable players such as Michael Olowokandi, Raef LaFrentz and Robert “Tractor” Traylor went off the board – there’s a possibility that Pierce and Nowitzki could play together.

A case can be made that signing “The Truth” to a short-term deal is the best realistic scenario for the Mavs to upgrade at small forward.

That’s assuming that the Mavs can’t pull off the miracle of signing LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony. And that the Houston Rockets will indeed exercise their right to match any offer made to Chandler Parsons, as the Utah Jazz will with Gordon Hayward.

That’d leave Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza among the Mavs’ Plan B targets, and they’re looking for long-term deals with eight-figure salaries. Would the Mavs better be off paying a steep price to one of those players for four seasons or making a lesser commitment to Pierce in salary and years?

Pierce, who turns 37 in October, can still play. He isn’t going to add to his 10 All-Star appearances, but he was a productive member of a playoff team last season, averaging 13.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 28 minutes per game for the Brooklyn Nets. He still has the offensive skills to flourish in Rick Carlisle’s flow system next to 7-foot shooter extraordinaire Nowitzki and dynamic driver Monta Ellis.

If the Los Angeles Clippers and Nets can work out a sign-and-trade agreement, Pierce would love to be reunited with Doc Rivers on a contender in Lob City, but those talks have reportedly bogged down. The Mavs, who tried to trade for Pierce a couple of years ago, should be an attractive option to Pierce if his ideal scenario of going to L.A. doesn’t pan out.

After all, the Mavs have a glaring need at small forward and a great recent track record with aging former All-Stars such as Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, in part due to their outstanding medical team and Mark Cuban’s commitment to being on the cutting edge of sports science.

The price for Pierce, which figures to be north of the midlevel exception but significantly south of what Ariza and Deng are asking for, would likely leave the Mavs enough room to re-sign Carter as the sixth man and fill out the rotation with a backcourt shooter (Mo Williams or D.J. Augustin?), plus a backup power forward (Jason Smith?) and/or big-man banger (DeJuan Blair or Emeka Okafor?).

The years of a deal might be as much of a sticking point as the salary in negotiations with Pierce. Maybe the Mavs could give him a partial guarantee for a second year. Perhaps there could be performance-related triggers that turn it into a player option. The front could work out those kinds of things with agent Jeff Schwartz, whose long-standing, strong working relationship with the Mavs’ management most recently includes Devin Harris’ new deal.

Pierce makes sense for the Mavs if signing him instead of a Plan B target would allow Dallas to have more depth next season. He makes sense for the Mavs if they value future financial flexibility and fear overpaying for Deng or Ariza.

It’d also make a great story, pairing Pierce with Nowitzki years after the daily comparisons between the two.

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