Rumor: Paul Pierce trade could lead Celtics to Josh Smith

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Sean Devaney of The Sporting News says the Celtics will set their sights on Josh Smith if they can move Paul Pierce without taking on any additional salary:

As for the rebuilding sure to follow the dismantling, that is contingent on what happens with Pierce. If the Celtics can unload Pierce to a team with enough cap space to absorb his salary, they will get a trade exception worth Pierce’s salary, or $15.3 million. And if that happens, the plan is already in place. According to a source, the Celtics have a sign-and-trade offer ready for Atlanta forward Josh Smith that would be the top priority in free agency.

Smith has long been connected to Boston in trade rumors, including one that would have sent Pierce to Atlanta in February. His link to the current Celtics dates back to high school, when he played with point guard Rajon Rondo at Oak Hill.

Cleveland and Milwaukee are two teams with cap space and alleged interest in Paul Pierce.

But according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Celtics aren’t going dump Pierce in either of those locales:

The Celtics do remain hopeful of acquiring a first-round pick for Pierce this week in conjunction with Thursday’s draft. But sources said the Celtics have shown an inclination to try to work with Pierce to get him to a favorable destination — which essentially translates to a contending team — if they indeed decide to trade him by week’s end. The team faces a June 30 deadline to either pick up Pierce’s $15.3 million option for next season or buy him out for $5 million.

If no such deal materializes, sources said, Boston is leaning toward picking up Pierce’s option to buy more time to decide how to handle the exit of such a prominent player in modern Celtics history. Despite persistent speculation that the Celtics might buy Pierce out this week, sources say team officials believe Pierce would have trade appeal all the way up to the 2014 trade deadline in February and likewise privately hope that Pierce’s ongoing presence on the roster would warm Kevin Garnett to the idea of playing on with Boston as opposed to retiring or forcing his way out, even though coach Doc Rivers has departed to join the Clippers.

Would Danny Ainge bypass a deal with Cleveland that could net him a $15 million trade exception and max contract player out of respect for Paul Pierce and his status in Celtics lore?