I was wary of using that title because it suggests the ship is sinking. You never hear the words "captain" and "ship" in the same sentence unless we're talking about the Titanic and an iceberg. And if we're being honest, maybe the ship is sinking. With a rash of injuries and six games to make up on the road after the All Star break, the Celtics are taking on water pretty quickly. We're gasping for air at two games below .500 and the #8 seed in the Eastern Conference. And yet, the band plays on with the familiar refrain of "moral victories" and "character building losses."
Maybe the C's are sinking, but we still have our Captain and he's not abandoning the ship anytime soon.
"The Captain." There's a reverence to that title and nickname that few athletes have been fortunate to be bestowed. Steve Yzerman, 22 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. Derek Jeter, 17 seasons with the New York Yankees and counting. And The Captain, Paul Pierce, 14 seasons and counting. That's rarefied air.
Wins and losses notwithstanding, this has already been a banner year for Paul Pierce by passing Larry Bird as the Celtics second all-time leading scorer. However, the only banner that PP cares about is #18. It's all anybody cares about really. It's championship or bust in Boston. From Paul to Ray to Garnett to the new vets like Pietrus and Dooling to Doc and Danny and to the fans, so many of us have championship tunnel vision. Boston is a sports city that has set such a high water mark for itself that when teams are floundering at sea level, people start to panic. The Central Artery to the Garden can get congested on game days and things start to fester and you can't see the light at the end of the road. You start yelling at the radio about trading this guy and that guy and before you know it, you've whipped yourself up into a frenzy and you realize that you're ranting about trading the one guy that cares about this team maybe more than anybody else: The Captain. With almost a week before our next game, let's take a breath and lay off the AM radio for a second.
When Bill Simmons asked Larry Bird about Danny Ainge's now infamous comments about trading himself, McHale, and Parish when they were past their primes, Bird replied:
“I would’ve kept them. The one thing about Red was loyalty. That’s why I never wanted to leave there, because I always knew he had my back. He cared for me. He wanted me to do well. Obviously, he wanted me to play at a high level.”
Now, I appreciate Danny's approach. He has to be ruthless. That's his job. Especially in today's sports landscape and the current CBA, there is little value in being nice. You want a shark in the water and you want him hungry. Fans today have the attention span of a SportsCenter highlight and look at box scores like they're getting fantasy updates. Who did what for me today, how much did they do it, and can someone else do it better. That's all that seemingly matters. However, before we hit the slots with the trade machine to see if we can get lucky like we did in the summer of '07, let's take a step back.
There has been growing sentiment that it's time to break up The Big Three, and more shockingly to me, trade Paul Pierce. He's still a productive All-Star and could be the missing link for a team trying to get over the championship hump. I don't disagree with that. He could help a bunch of teams. Any team could use a Paul Pierce. But he's not just "a Paul Pierce," is he? He's The Captain. He's our Paul Pierce.
After last night's comeback against the Thunder fell short, Pierce said:
"I'm not a player who stops short. We have a lot of guys with pride here. They want to go to the finish line no matter what the circumstance is."
When you see how the team gutted out a 27-point deficit on the road AGAINST one of the league's best RIGHT BEFORE a long vacation WITHOUT three key rotation players and you hear comments like that, you should take your finger off the panic button. Before we go nuclear, let's count to three and really think about what we're talking about.
- The pride Pierce is talking about doesn't show up in box scores, but you can't find it in every team either. It's invaluable. Pride comes from years on the job with which Pierce has put in plenty and from a desire to keep on putting on the hard hat and coming to work every day to do your best which Pierce does and will do. Trust me. John Havlicek is sweating.
- Pierce's leadership (along with Garnett, Allen, and Doc) is a commodity when it comes to attracting free agents. Ironically, you see its effect in most strikingly in former Celtics. There is no doubt in my mind that Pierce mentored Tony Allen and Kendrick Perkins to be the leaders they are today for Memphis and Oklahoma City. Maybe Rondo is ready to take hold of the wheel, but trading Pierce could have us rudderless for years.
- If you really agree with Danny, picture Larry Bird playing in Indiana. Picture him in any other jersey. Now, close your eyes and picture Pierce with the Laker purple and gold. Sick yet?
Trading Pierce may be the quicker way to rebuild. First round draft picks and young players with potential sound great when you're trying to put together a championship Frankenstein. Let's just remember that you can't replace heart and soul and that legacy lives on forever. This might be sentimental rhetoric and an unpopular notion, but I would rather have the heart of a champion pumping through the veins of this organization than gamble on the unknown. Sink or swim, I'm not abandoning the ship until The Captain leaves his post.