Kevin C. Cox - Getty Images
As Paul Pierce's career comes to a close, the 34-year-old has a chance to cement his legacy as the all-time leading scorer in Celtics' history. He's got two years left on his current contract and a lot left in the tank. There's no question that #34 will be raised to rafters, but there might be a sliver of doubt that he retires in Celtic green.
Sometime next year and maybe even sooner, there's going to be some temptation by Celtics fans and maybe even Danny Ainge to say goodbye to the Captain before he's ready to leave. The final season of Pierce's contract is only partially guaranteed and it may be the last chance for Danny to take advantage of the amnesty clause and Pierce is the only reasonable candidate. Amnestying Pierce or straight out waiving him could free up a nice chunk of change for a luxury tax team. The free agent class of 2013 has a bevy of promising young players and any good GM would have to consider cutting ties with an aging veteran.
They wouldn't even have to part with Avery Bradley or Brandon Bass in a trade for Josh Smith (or James Harden or Andrew Bynum or, gulp, Dwight Howard). Subtract Pierce's presence on the payroll and you get decent chunk of cash to throw at someone next summer. It's not unprecedented. Not every amnesty victim is a bust (apologies to Darko Milicic). Good guys like Chauncey Billups, Elton Brand, and Luis Scola have been used as pawns under the new CBA. Danny has an opportunity to make good on critical statements he made about Red's refusal to trade Bird, McHale, and Parish while they still had some value. While he's ignored that temptation in the past, if he gets a chance to attract a big time free agent next summer or even this March, the same fans that skewered him for trading Perk wouldn't think twice about letting Pierce go, but not me.
No, not me. I want Paul Pierce to retire as a Celtic because to this generation, he's not just a Celtic. He's The Celtic of our times. Forget the numbers, because the argument against amnestying Pierce is less tangible than points, rebounds, and assists. There will be times this season when people will mistake PP's methodical pace as a sign that he's slowing down. People will point to a dip in his numbers and compare his production to players with similar paychecks.
There will be times when Father Time will actually get the best of him and he'll have to concede to his understudy, Jeff Green. Fans will lament The Truth and accept that it's time to move on from one of the few players that's spent their entire career with one team.
There will be times when the lure of "getting younger" and the intrigue of commodities unknown will muddle the memories of a championship season when the Finals MVP knocked out LeBron James and Kobe Bryant on his way to raising Banner 17 to the Garden rafters. Even if his game does waiver and the MCL sprain that hobbled his knee slows him down, I still want PP in Boston.
He'll probably need three healthy seasons to catch John Havlicek as the all time leading scorer in Celtics' history. It's a significant milestone considering the history of the storied franchise and the ever-changing landscape of teams today, but whether he passes Hondo or not is irrelevant really. He'll be remembered as one of the best to wear the uniform and that legacy shouldn't be tarnished with him finishing in another.
In Havlicek's final game in the hallowed halls of the old Boston Garden, the Celtics were closing out a dismal regular season against a hapless Buffalo Braves team. Had the game never been played, no one would have even remembered it or cared. These were circumstances unfamiliar to John Havlicek. In the prior four seasons, the Celtics were perennial contenders and had won two NBA Finals. But on that night, they weren't gearing up for another playoff run. As Havlicek put on his hard hat for one last time, the Celtic faithful showered him with a ten minute standing ovation for a career spent grinding out games just like this.
John Havlicek's (29pts/8asts/4rebs) Last Game (via LamarMatic)
I want that moment for Paul Pierce. Cousy*. Russell. Havlicek. Cowens*. Bird. The greatest Celtics retire as Celtics. Pierce is in that class. He absolutely deserves it. I would even go as far to say that I'd trade a chance at a championship for that one night to say goodbye to The Captain. Over the years, I've found that the euphoria of winning can be fleeting, but I always vividly remember how certain players made me feel over the long stretch of their careers. Champagne will sour and box scores will gather dust, but character lasts forever. Pierce's game is not unlike the man himself; it's slow and deliberate, but something and someone you can always rely on. Once in a while, he'd posterize a defender with a monster dunk or come up with the clutch 3 to win a game, but the course of his career is paced by the sound of clocking in and clocking out, every day and every night. He's the quiet captain who chooses to lead by example rather than the brash bravado of a Kevin Garnett.
The price of winning is steep and one that Paul Pierce has been paying his entire life. After being undervalued in the 1997 NBA Draft, he invested his time in hard work and persevered for so long while his team fluctuated from playoff contender to cellar dweller. But the price is not only measured in blood, sweat, and tears. It also takes patience in your team's management and faith in things you can't control like injuries and a night club stabbing that almost took his life, let alone his career.
Pierce's loyalty finally paid off when Danny Ainge assembled The Big Three in 2007 and the Celtics have been competitive ever since, but there's an ugly part to winning, too. Winning at all costs can mean turning your back on the guys that got you there. It's scary to think that this could conceivably be Pierce's final season in Boston, but I'm sure that that's the farthest thing from his mind. He'll enter his 15th season with the same workmanlike attitude that he's always had. He'll be as consistent with his elbow jumper as he is in the community with his Truth On Health campaign and I'll be there every step of the way until he retires a Celtic.