We've been preparing for Paul Pierce's last days in Boston for years now. It could have happened way back in 2006 or 2007. Then Kevin Garnett happened and everything was wonderful, ...until things started breaking down and rumors started up again. Last Spring seemed to be a last hurrah, yet (almost) everyone came back for one more run. It might have been one run too many, but don't tell my heart that. I don't have any regrets whatsoever.
Will my head start kicking my heart if we find ourselves mired in mediocrity - unable to really compete but too good to truly tank? Maybe, but that's ok. Because Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are once-in-a-lifetime gifts from the basketball heavens and it was worth it to give them one more longshot.
One reason I feel that way is because I remember all too well what 2006 felt like. I remember most of the 2 decades before that too. That is what I didn't black out of my memory banks on purpose. So you'll excuse me if I don't run giddy into the rebuilding years (if indeed that's what we have in store).
I'm really, really, really going to miss Paul Pierce in particular when he's gone. First and foremost on an emotional level that borders on feelings I have for extended family. But also on a practical level. I think we've had him for so long that we sometimes take for granted what we've had all along. As usual, nobody puts this into prose quite like Jackie MacMullan.
When he's gone, you will yearn for him during the dreary days of starting over. Celtics fans have taken for granted Pierce's remarkable production and consistency. You will see those once-guaranteed 18 points a game move on -- it's so much harder than it seems. Pierce makes posting up smaller players (as he did to Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd at various parts of this game) look like layups. He rebounds the ball in traffic against players significantly bigger than him. He takes charges. And he has never -- ever -- shied away from taking the big shot with the pressure squarely on his shoulders.
Do you realize what kind of knee jerk reaction Knicks (and other teams) fans have when they see Paul Pierce with the ball in clutch time? Fear. Sure, we've seen him miss his share of shots in those situations, but he's ripped the spleens out of fans on enough occasions that he has that visceral respect that we have for Kobe in the same situation. How many guys like that are in the NBA?
How many "professional" scorers do you see around the NBA that can also guard the other team's best player (for stretches), pass when the occasion calls for it, and grab rebounds with anyone in the league? Oh yeah, and he still takes charges and sacrifices any and all stats if it leads to a win. He's completely bought in to Doc Rivers' philosophy and acts as a leader, mentor, teacher, not to mention the face of the franchise.
You don't replace that. Period.
Will there be another star in this franchise? Sure. Maybe Rondo is already becoming that. He also has been with the Celtics his whole career. I could go on about similar career arcs and favorable comparisons, but you never know. He could also be gone in a matter of weeks.
And if the Celtics do decide to build a team around Rondo, they are going to have to find another star. Jeff Green is good when he's on, but he's not yet automatic like Paul Pierce was for so many years. Even Doc said that it isn't fair to expect Green to be the next Pierce. Because there is no "next Pierce."
That's really the point here. Paul Pierce is irreplaceable and I hope Wednesday will not be his last game and this year will not be his last year.
Paul has said that he wants to retire a Celtic but he's also said that he could play another few years. He's also said that he doesn't want to be part of a rebuilding team and if Kevin Garnett decides that the pain is too much, rebuilding is a lot more likely than not. In fact, if Garnett decided he did NOT want to retire, there's still a decent chance that Danny would look around for a deal similar to the ones that fell apart (or were blocked) this past February.
Of course you never know. Maybe Danny can pull another rabbit out of a hat and turn some assets into another star (or near-star) player. Perhaps you could couple the new guy with Rondo and bring Pierce (and even Garnett) off the bench and make another kind of mini-run. Would that be the worst thing in the world? Or am I just dreaming and grasping for staws? Perhaps, but only because I've had so much practice at it for the past few years.
For at least one more game, Paul Pierce is a Celtic. The truth is, the Truth will always be a Celtic.