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Can You Put A Price On Paul Pierce's Legacy In Boston?

The Celtics acquired three first-round draft picks from the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night, and all it cost them was a handful of aging players on big contracts. Oh, and one other thing - the legacy of one of the franchise's all-time greats.

This is the end for Paul Pierce.
This is the end for Paul Pierce.

Which one will I miss the most? You can't ask me that.

I'd liken it to asking a mother which one of her children she loves the most. It's just not allowed. It's offensive, it's invasive and it's pointless -- even if deep down she has an answer, she'd never say. You'll inevitably get the hedging response of "I love them all equally," so why even bother to ask the question?

In the space of just 352 days, the Celtics have said goodbye to Ray Allen, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Which of the four losses is the most painful? You just can't go there. You can try, but good luck getting a straight answer. A typical Celtics fan will dodge the question, leave the room or just break down crying. How are we even supposed to process that?

Actually, on second thought, I changed my mind. It's Pierce. Of course it's Pierce, and with a tremendous amount of respect to Garnett, who's epitomized the Celtics' spirit of competitiveness for the last six years, it's not even that close. June 27, 2013 should be remembered as the night the Celtics shipped away their once-in-a-generation franchise icon. Nothing compares to that. How could it?

Seeing Allen go was bittersweet in a way, but we overcame it. He was the oldest of the three players, his skills had deteriorated, and there were questions about his relationship with Rajon Rondo, so his departure made some sense chemistry-wise. Plus, he went to Miami by his own personal choice, the traitor.

Saying goodbye to Doc was difficult, but coaches are replaceable - no one ever won a championship with X's and O's alone. It was the players we cared about the most.

KG -- man, that one's tough. But the guy had only been here since 2007, when he was brought in as somewhat of a hired mercenary. He was a loyal player and one of the most compelling figures in the history of Boston sports, but a six-season tenure is relatively brief in Celtic years.

Pierce, though.

Since the days when Dwight Eisenhower was president and David Stern was still in junior high, the Celtic franchise has been built around Boston lifers. Guys didn't just roll through town and pick up a ring or two -- they stayed, they built lasting connections with the team and the city, and they endured. Bill Russell did it. Bob Cousy did it. John Havlicek. Larry Bird. Kevin McHale. These guys didn't jump ship when the going got tough -- they felt a sense of loyalty to Boston, and they backed it up by playing here to the end.

The assumption was that Pierce would be the next Celtic in that mold. In an era when guys like that are few and far between, it seemed like we might see one last green diehard. The fans wanted it, obviously. It appeared as though Pierce wanted it too, for the most part -- though there were some well-documented bumps in the road a decade ago, he stuck it out and resolved to remain with the team from start to finish.

That was Pierce three years ago, announcing to the world that he'd agreed to a long-term extension with the Celtics. He was 12 seasons into his career at that point; the new deal was for years 13 through 16. Done deal, we figured. He was locked in forever.

Things are different in 2013. Doc's gone, the team is old and withering away, and we're no longer talking about a title contender. The 2013-14 Celtics, with or without their Pierce/KG core, were looking at a struggle just to sneak into the No. 8 playoff seed. So Danny Ainge made the decision to extract value from his assets now, trading his two Hall of Famers for a sizable batch of first-round draft picks.

Nothing's official for another couple of weeks, but the gist of it is the Celtics are shipping out KG, Pierce and Jason Terry for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Tornike Shengelia, Reggie Evans, Keith Bogans, Kris Joseph and three Brooklyn first-rounders.

Wallace is an aging wing player on a terrible contract. The others are a mix of the expiring, the negligibly cheap and the forgettable. The real stars of this deal are the draft picks.

Those draft picks, assuming the Nets turn out pretty darn good next season with a starting five of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Pierce, Garnett and Brook Lopez, aren't likely to be game-changers. Good luck finding the next Pierce with the No. 25 selection next summer.

In short, you're left with a takeaway of... is this all? Really?

Fans have been clamoring for months -- perhaps years, even -- for the Celtics to "blow it up." Careful what you wish for, fans, because this is what a blowup looks like. The fearless-to-a-fault Ainge has shipped away the idol of a generation of Boston fans, and in essence, all he's getting is more picks in the "everyone changed the channel already" portion of draft night. If he's lucky, he finds the next Tony Allen.

What have the Celtics really gained here by unloading everything? They're going to field a team next season that features Rondo, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger and new draftee Kelly Olynyk, plus a bench loaded with youngsters and Nets castoffs. (There's also that lingering possibility of Josh Smith, yes, but let's not get ahead of ourselves on that front.) They'll win, oh, let's say, 36 games next year. Maybe if the Eastern Conference remains weak, they sneak into the postseason as a bottom seed. They might land in 15th or so with their own pick next June.

I somehow doubt this trade has changed much of anything in the big picture. With or without the deal, the Celtics probably aren't a serious threat in the NBA for another five years - maybe more. Either way, the grand "win a championship plan someday" plan hasn't really come into focus. In a macro sense, this deal is somewhat of a lateral move.

When in doubt, tie goes to the legacy, right?

The Celtics had a chance to honor Pierce's "retire a Celtic" pledge, but they ditched that possibility for a trade package that merely helps them stockpile a couple of extra minor assets. For a Hub hero, that's not good enough. Two decades from now, no one will look back on the summer of 2013 as the time Danny Ainge shrewdly nabbed a few extra draft picks. They will, however, remember it as the end of the Paul Pierce era.

That's what it means to be a Celtic. Forget about all of that "ubuntu" and "bleeding green" nonsense. The true defining characteristic of this franchise is that every decision has historical context. Every player who walks through that door has a chance to be the next Celtic legend, and around here, that really counts for something. Ainge, who was drafted by the Celtics on June 8, 1981 and has been associated with the team ever since, should know that better than almost anyone. It's not always about cap space and draft picks and trade assets. It's about history. Danny Ainge was born in 1959; Celtic pride has been around longer than he has.

What did you really trade Paul Pierce for, Danny? You may think you got back some value, but I question whether you know what "value" really means.

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