It was the right move. It was the best return the Celtics could get. I’ve repeated this over and over to myself in the past 24 hours. It still doesn’t make the reality of what just happened any easier for most Celtics fans.
Those young fans like myself grew up on Paul Pierce. They lived on him. Through the highs in the early 2000’s, in which he carried an underwhelming supporting cast to the Eastern Conference Finals. Through the lows of the mid 2000’s, when Pierce still gave C’s fans a reason to watch a bad team every night. On any night Pierce played, the team always had a chance in that era. You can’t say that about a lot of rebuilding teams. He was that good.
Thankfully, the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen brought brighter times to Boston. Pierce was awarded for his loyalty, sacrifice, dedication, and toughness. He won a title and with a little more injury luck he probably should have had one or two more.
The end was not pretty against the Knicks, and unfortunately it overshadows one of the best regular season efforts of Pierce’s career. With the help of Garnett, Pierce willed the Celtics from sub .500 team when Rajon Rondo went down and got them into the playoffs, at which point the odometer was empty.
Make no mistake, despite a tough postseason for the captain, Pierce is not done. Neither is Garnett. They can’t do it for 30-35 minutes a night anymore consistently, but both players are still borderline All-Stars. They came to play every night last year. They did their job, and didn’t complain, as the team lost player after player to injury and made ill-fated trades (Jordan Crawford).
They competed, even as the supporting cast brought in by Danny Ainge to assist them let them down.
That’s what makes this so hard. It’s one thing to say goodbye to franchise legends on a downward spiral. Pierce and Garnett are not there yet. (And neither is Jason Terry for that matter). These are all extremely valuable players, that were given away for a chance to build at the future.
In most other professions, you are rewarded for seniority and for doing your job well. You are allowed to go out on your own terms. It doesn’t sound like an unreasonable expectation, but in today’s NBA it is.
Listen, we all know the Celtics were going to rebuild at one point or another. It was going to be a painful process whenever it started and probably last for awhile. As long as LeBron James remains in the Eastern Conference though, chances are the Celtics wouldn’t be able to get back to the NBA Finals any time this decade.
Knowing this, I was content to see the team ride it out with Pierce and Garnett for at least another year. Most fans would have enjoyed watching them compete each and every night, with a puncher’s chance of being a feisty underdog in the playoffs. You had a bunch of younger players around Garnett and Pierce that could continue to improve and develop, benefitting from their influence. Is that really so bad a scenario?
It was to Danny Ainge and the ownership. And I understand that. The deal was the right one to make on paper. Ainge has acquired a litany of lottery tickets, and chances are he’ll hit on a few.
“I think we are in a much better position than we were when I got here ten years ago,” Danny Ainge said last night. “Where we sort of had to do it in pieces and move at a slower pace. Our objective is to do it less painful and do it with more speed and more pace.”
Ainge is right on that. There’s one difference he’s forgetting though.
Unlike 10 years ago, he no longer has Paul Pierce to build around.
Can Rajon Rondo be that centerpiece? We’ll find out soon enough.