Parting ways with Paul Pierce hurts, but it had to be done.
By: Scott LaCascia
Paul Pierce's legacy is intact. His place in Boston Celtics history is secure. Someday soon, his number 34 will be raised high above the parquet floor at the TD Garden along with Cousy, Russell, Havlicek, Cowens, Bird and all of the Celtic legends, as it should be. In today's sports world, there isn't much room for sentimentality. Cold blooded decisions have to be made, and this was one of them. There is not one Celtics fan who wanted Pierce to wear any uniform that was not green and white. We wanted to him to play every game as a Boston Celtic, we wanted him to chase down John Havlicek for the all-time scoring record, we wanted him to carve his own niche in the Celtics' mystique. In a move that many saw coming a mile away, Pierce was dealt to the Brooklyn Nets, along with Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry. In return, the Celtics received three first-round picks (2014, 2016 and 2018) along with Kris Humphries' expiring contract, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph (who was drafted by Boston last year), MarShon Brooks, and Keith Bogans.
This is a good move for the Celtics from a team perspective. Jason Terry was a major disappointment this season, and Brooklyn agreed to take his bad contract to balance out the Celtics' burden of Gerald Wallace's contract. Kevin Garnett agreed to waive his no trade clause to go to Brooklyn, but KG's departure has a much different feeling than Pierce's does. Kevin Garnett came to Boston in 2007 after the acquisition of Ray Allen, and helped change the entire culture of the Celtics. He helped transform them into a swarming defensive unit, and delivered the Celtics' first NBA title in 22 years. KG spent six years in Boston, and he will be missed. The difference is that Garnett played in Minnesota for a dozen years before he agreed to come to Boston. Paul Pierce has been the face of the Boston Celtics for fifteen years. We watched him get drafted here tenth overall in 1998 out of Kansas, we watched him develop into an immediate star, we watched him pick up the vacated torch after Larry Bird's retirment, the same torch that went with Reggie Lewis to his grave. Paul Pierce gave the Boston Celtics hope; light at the end of the tunnel that had been absent for the better part of a decade.
We saw some low points during Pierce's tenure in Boston. He was nearly stabbed to death in a Boston nightclub in September of 2000. Former teammate Tony Battie rushed Pierce to a local hospital after he had been stabbed eleven times in the face, neck and back, and had to undergo surgery for a punctured lung. Doctors said that the leather jacket Pierce was wearing that night may have saved his life. In the 2005 NBA playoffs, he was ejected in a first round game against the Indiana after knocking Pacers point guard Jamaal Tinsley to the floor, which resulted in a second technical and allowed the Pacers to eventually tie the game. As Pierce left the floor, he took off his jersey and waived it in the air to taunt the crowd, an act that Red Auerbach said was "embarrassing." In the post-game press conference, Pierce stepped up to the podium with a bandage wrapped around his head, and when asked about it he said in a surly tone that Tinsley's foul had broken his jaw.
After he was sidetracked by the 2005 playoff incident, he turned in several productive seasons. None more productive than 2008, when he won his first (and only) NBA Championship. He failed to scored more than 20 points a game for the first time since his sophomore season, but his field goal percentage, free throw percentage and three point percentage were all up. The Celtics went 66-16 during the regular season and faced off against the hated Lakers in the Finals. Boston won in six games, winning the clicher by 39 points (and it wasn't that close). He was awarded the MVP of the Finals, averaging 21.8/4.5/6.3. An injury to Garnett derailed their repeat hopes in 2009, and they came within a quarter of winning another title in 2010, but after 2011 it was becoming clear that rebuilding was inevitable. The new Big Three had one last gasp in 2012, reaching the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals, but again fell short against Miami. Ray Allen took his talents to South Beach, but Pierce and Garnett remained.
This was a deal that Danny Ainge had to make for the good of the franchise. He dealt three aging players and received spare parts and expiring contracts, and got back THREE first round picks. This gives the Celtics much-needed cap flexibility going forward and also gives them two first round picks for four of the next five years, and four in the next two years: 2014- their own and Brooklyn's/Atlanta's pick (whichever one is worse), 2015- their own and the Clippers' pick (Doc Rivers compensation). Ainge can now use the extra picks to trade up in the loaded 2014 draft, or use the picks as bargaining chips in future trades. The Celtics will probably also explore options to trade Rajon Rondo in the near future, as they can let him come back at his own pace, show that he's healthy to increase his trade value, and clear even more money.
Pierce remains the biggest casualty here. His fifteen years in green are more than just a footnote in Celtics history. One could argue that he's the best all-around scorer in the history of the franchise. Pierce had an inside game, an outside game, a mid-range game, he could bury any shot from any angle on the court with a hand in his face (especially when he was hot), he had a quick first step and was unstopable going to the rim, he got to the free throw line more than any Celtic ever did, and he was one of the best rebounders in the league at his position. Paul Pierce was a Boston Celtic, and he deserved to play it out here. He had earned the right to retire on his own terms in Boston, and it is a damn shame that he will be unable to do so. The world of professional sports is a harsh business, especially when you have to say goodbye to a player who you grew up with, and who you watched grow up in your town, playing for your team. The hardest part is knowing that the right move was made, and it's painful to admit. We'll see Pierce twice next season, and then at the Garden to put his jersey up, then in Springfield when he's inducted into the Hall of Fame, but it's tough to say goodbye.