Speaking with the media during a conference call on Thursday, before the news about Robinson broke, Pierce addressed the Celtics' offseason thus far by saying the following:
"I thought it was a great move picking up Jermaine [O'Neal], giving us an inside presence in case Rasheed [Wallace] retires, but sometimes I'm looking at all the players signing and wish we would get on the ball a little bit," Pierce said. "I trust in Danny [Ainge] to put a good team around us, but I'm sitting here watching all these good players fall to other teams."
The line about "getting on the ball" has certainly drawn interest amongst observers. Sure, with Rasheed Wallace supposedly retiring (more on that in a minute), and Tony Allen heading to Memphis, Boston's bench is looking pretty pathetic right now (it consists of Glen Davis, Avery Bradley, and Semih Erden).
But let's not forget that before Ainge concerned himself with his team's bench, he needed to worry about the five guys who would start for the Celtics on an everyday basis. After all, with Kendrick Perkins suffering that knee injury and Ray Allen and Pierce entering the free agency pool, only Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett were sure things heading into next season.
Personally, I think Danny Ainge has done a very good job of keeping this team in tact and on track to compete for another championship next season. In a post a few weeks ago, I laid out why opting to re-sign Pierce and Allen and exceeding the salary cap was the best course of action, particularly for the team's immediate future.
To someone like me, who's stuck on the outside looking in, it has certainly seemed like Danny Ainge has made a number of productive moves so far this offseason. He has thus far managed to retain the services of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen (both critical moves), along with Doc Rivers (crucial), and has also added O'Neal to immediately replace Perkins. Add in bringing in Lawrence Frank to replace Tom Thibodeau, drafting Bradley and Harangody, and signing Erden, and in my book, that stands as a quality list of moves.
But, I'm not Paul Pierce.
While we were waiting to see whether or not Doc, Pierce, and Ray would return, it wouldn't shock me in the least if they all collectively knew they were coming back for another run. Perhaps, as Pierce said, he never really did think once about leaving Boston. Perhaps the same was true for Ray. Perhaps, all along, Pierce knew he, Ray, and Doc would be back, so them all returning hasn't seemed like "moves" to him because he never considered them as outside of the equation. But the fact is, they were moves, and vital ones at that, and cannot be discounted when assessing Ainge's performance so far this offseason.
And if Pierce is indeed failing to acknowledge those moves, the only transactions he was basing his observations on are the acquisitions of Bradley and Harangody through the draft, and Erden and O'Neal through free agency. If I was only referring to these players when discussing the Celtics' offseason, I might be disappointed as well. Pierce probably isn't putting too much stock in Bradley and Harangody, either, only because rookies typically fail to make significant impacts on teams aiming to contend for a title.
While you have to appreciate Pierce's desire for the Celtics to improve this summer through free agency, he has to understand how limited the team's options actually are. The Celtics only had the Mid-Level Exception and Veteran's Minimum(s) to work with, seeing as they are already well over the salary cap. The MLE was spent on O'Neal, meaning they can only offer the Veteran's Minimum to free agents moving forward. Pierce alluded to missing out on the crop of free agents that has already signed with other teams, but the vast majority of those players took deals worth much more than the Vet's Minimum.
I think it's blatantly obvious that if Ainge had the necessary cap space, he would have pursued the higher-caliber free agents in an effort to improve his own club. According to various reports, Ainge was one of the first to reach out to free agent forward/center David Lee, most likely in the hopes that Lee would consider accepting the Mid-Level Exception. Unfortunately for the Celtics, the money just wasn't there, and still isn't.
On top of everything, Boston won't be the only team in contention for the savvy veteran players willing to take a pay cut for a shot at a championship. Teams like Orlando, Los Angeles (Lakers), and the revamped Miami Heat will be looking to add seasoned players for less money as well, and, at this point, what gives Boston the edge against those clubs? Those other teams are all built to win right now as well, but sport a much younger core of players. Three years ago when Garnett and Allen joined the ranks, the excitement surrounding Boston played a major role in landing free agents like James Posey and Eddie House. The C's have no such advantage this summer. Miami is the sole owner of the "excitement" card.
As for Rasheed Wallace's contract, which has been mentioned as a valuable trade asset, if you read through Pierce's comments, he doesn't even sound sure that Wallace is indeed hanging them up. Here's what he told The Boston Herald:
"I'm not sure," the Celtics captain said of whether he believes Wallace is actually going to retire. "I've texted him a couple of times. I think it's still up in the air. I definitely think we could use him, but that's on Rasheed."
Interesting. Well, all Ainge can really do at this point is continue to pursue the best names available and make one heck of a sales pitch to get them to take a pay cut. Pierce and his veteran mates can certainly do their part by embarking on recruiting missions of their own. And if Wallace's contract does eventually become trade bate, all the better.
The Celtics kicked off the "second half" of the offseason by agreeing to terms with Robinson. Hopefully it will be the first of a few more moves that will show Pierce - along with everyone else - that Ainge and co. are serious about putting a contending team on the floor at the start of next season.