The whispers around Paul Pierce’s future with the Celtics continue to surface in the fourth week of Boston’s offseason. Unconfirmed report after unconfirmed report has circled in, stating anything from Pierce’s house being on the market, to the team being “likely” to buy him out.
Locally, plenty of Celtics fans seem resigned to the fact that Pierce will be gone after an underwhelming effort in the C’s first round exit. Nationally, many are calling the career Celtic “washed up” after being left with the lasting image of Pierce playing the worst playoff series of his career against the Knicks.
These conclusions, especially the latter one, bother me. It’s amazing to me how short people’s memories can become when dealing with a small sample size and limited exposure to Pierce during the rest of the year.
Yes, Pierce was awful during the playoffs. It was the worst series of his career, by far. There are plenty of excuses I could give for his lackluster play (playing with a pinched nerve, 42 minutes per game, a poor offensive gameplan centered almost solely around him). There’s no defending how awful he was though. He has to take responsibility for the performance.
Luckily, I don’t need those excuses to defend Pierce as a player. Instead, I can point to the larger sample size, you know the 77 games of the regular season he played in with above-average career numbers. The guy who turned the C’s season around and carried his team back into the offseason when Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger went down in January.
Upon being left with a bitter taste from the Knicks’ series, people forgot about that version of Pierce. The Pierce that was still playing like he was 25 for more than half the season. That guy is not over the hill. He’s not even falling down the hill. Instead, he’s closer to the peak than the bottom.
With that in mind, I wanted to give everyone a little reminder about the Truth and note how he’s still one of the best small forwards and all-around players in the league.
This leads me to my follow-up question: why are people so ready to get rid of this guy?
Before we move forward, let me clarify a little bit. I understand why Pierce is on the trade market. He’s old, he’s an expiring contract, he still has value around the league (maybe?) and he’s going to be overpaid next season if the Celtics keep him. Oh, and the team wants to “build” for the future.
However, to me, the idea that the Celtics are going to buy him out or amnesty him is laughable. Trading him, just for the sake of dumping his salary for pennies on the dollar is also highly prohibitive in my book.
Why? Because even when you put sentimentality aside, Pierce means so much to this team on the floor.
Let’s walk through some of the evidence on this “over-the-hill” Pierce character.
35. That’s pretty old, but not THAT old in this day and age.
Pierce led the team in scoring last year, averaging 18.6 points per game, leading the Celtics. In case you were wondering, that was the 14th highest total in the entire NBA last season. He shot 43 percent from the field, just one percentage point below his career mark. His 38 percent shooting from downtown was above his career average.
Did you know Pierce had the best rebounding season of his career last season? No? Well, he did by far, grabbing 6.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. He was 2nd on the team overall on the glass, grabbing 6.3 rebounds per game and was on of the best defensive rebounding forwards in the ENTIRE NBA. For more on this, you can check out my TrueHoop piece on Pierce from March.
You may have heard about this somewhere, but the Celtics lost their All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo in the middle of the season. Without him, the team had no true point guard on the roster. That meant point duties had to go somewhere and they largely went to Pierce, who had an assist rate of 25.1 percent, another career-high at age 35. Ho-hum.
Pierce missed only four games this season, despite playing more than half the season with a pinched nerve in his neck. This kind of durability is more than the rule, rather than the exception for the Truth, as the small forward has only missed 25 games total over the past six seasons combined. Casual fan: Trade him for a guy who can stay on the floor. Like Eric Gordon!
Saying the Celtics were overly dependent on Pierce is probably an understatement. The 15-year veteran had a usage rate of 27.4, which was the 16th highest number in the entire league. During the Knicks’ series that number jumped to 30.1, which puts Pierce 5th overall amongst players in the postseason. It was also higher than a guy named LeBron James, in case you were wondering. The Captain carried a heavy load all year long offensively, and the extra weight added this postseason was too much for Pierce to carry. So…send him packing! This was all Pierce’s fault! Or was it the guy who was calling the plays’ fault? I lean towards the latter.
The Achilles’ heel of Pierce in the Knicks series, Pierce had a highly respectable 14.3 turnover rate, just a smidge above his career average. If Pierce returned to a role where he’s not a primary ballhandler, these will likely go down again. That’s assuming Danny Ainge signs another point guard, and based on his track record, we can’t count on Ainge to do that.
The Celtics’ are still at their best defensively with Pierce on the floor. Accordingly to mySynergysports, Pierce allowed just 0.79 points per possession this year. Comparatively, Jeff Green allowed 0.81 points per possession.
Three triple-doubles, and 12 double-double for the Captain this season. A PER of 19.1, which ranks him 40th in the entire NBA and fourth amongst small forwards behind LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant.
Do those look to you like someone who is over-the-hill? At the very least, they are borderline All-Star numbers, all done without the benefit of an All-Star point guard for half the season. Pierce isn’t a 15 million dollar a year player, but he’s worth closer to that money than you might think.
Some players shrink without their stars around them. Pierce’s play improved and that has to count for something. And despite this reality, some people in NBA circles think the Celtics should give this guy away in a pure salary dump or waive him outright? That would be the worst move of Danny Ainge’s tenure.
Is Pierce guaranteed to post these numbers again next year? Nope. He’s probably due for a decline, although an improved supporting cast, clean bill of health, and an offensive scheme that relies less on the Truth could improve his percentages.
I’d be willing to bet money he comes much closer to achieving his regular season numbers, than duplicating the dud-like effort that we saw from him against the Knicks in the first round. I’ll take this regular season sample size over those six games anyday of the week.
So I ask the question again: Why are people in such a hurry to get rid of this guy? To dump his salary? Want to trade some salary? Get rid of Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, or Brandon Bass. Don’t trade away the guy who did his job for you all season before running out of gas at the end.
Sentimentality aside, If the team wants to remain competitive in any way, fans should be fighting to keep Pierce around, instead of dumping the guy. What’s wrong with bringing the core back, and seeing what happens for half a season before the trade deadline?
If they flounder again, you can always blow it up in February. I don’t see the rush to deal Pierce this summer, especially when you consider the fact Kevin Garnett would probably be out the door with him. I can understand trading Pierce for legitimate good value. Anything less than that, Ainge should balk, for now anyway.
And that’s the God honest truth.
For additional reading on Pierce, check out my column on the facts and myths surrounding his option this summer from CelticsHub.