Every few weeks, I have the joy of seeing the very worst Twitter accounts have full diaper-filled meltdowns over the idea that Paul Pierce was good at basketball, the Paul Pierce who is the Celtics second-leading scorer of all time and outdueled LeBron James and Kobe Bryant to win Finals MVP. And for reasons I don’t understand, he’s always compared to Dwyane Wade, an outstanding player in his own right but five years Pierce’s junior and hardly a contemporary.
Apparently, that’s how you prove players are bad: by comparing them to players that (youn think) are better. So, checkmate, green-teamers. @PrimeWadeSZN, a lifelong consumer of basketball since he started watching in 2015, knows talent when he sees it.
Here’s a popular if-then proposition the haters love. Only one of the following things can be true at the same time:
1) The 2008 Celtics were a superteam
2) Paul Pierce wasn’t good
I hardly even care to engage in the Pierce dialogue anymore, and in the specific instance where Wade’s name is invoked, there’s one stat that makes them really difficult to compare: Pierce played over ten thousand more minutes in the NBA. Sure, Wade’s peak was way higher, whereas Pierce’s workload was way heavier. Wade’s career accolades are pretty insane, but Pierce didn’t play next to Shaquille O’Neal or LeBron James. I’ll gladly bury my head in the sand on this. It’s a silly comparison.
The funny thing about debating if Pierce is bad or not is that the same hivemind seems to think that the 2007-08 Celtics are the progenitors of the modern superteam. Another revisionist narrative that Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Pierce teamed up to thwart a 23-year-old LeBron James--who had not yet won a championship--and quite frankly, wasn’t about to even if the Celtics lost to him in the second round on their way to Banner 18. LeBron was awesome in just his fifth year, but he was hardly the Eastern Conference king. Cleveland was 45-37 that season.
Here’s a fun fact: the Pistons went at least as far as the conference finals six straight seasons, ending with the 2007-08 season when they finished with a 59-23 regular season record. Below them were the 50-32 Magic, followed by the Cavaliers. If anybody was the beast of the east, it was Detroit.
And even then, it’s not like Danny Ainge slammed all his chips on the table with the intent of dethroning the Pistons either. The Celtics did it to keep Paul Pierce, who threatened to force his way out of town if he didn’t get any help. It was the franchise doing what it needed to do to keep their franchise player. The five-time All-Star at the time was on the back nine of his prime and Boston was sputtering through a rebuild.
More to the point, the Celtics’ starting five—the one that famously “never lost a playoff series”—was entirely formed through trades and draft picks. Modern superteams have instead been formed through free agency like, ahem, Wade and LeBron’s Miami teams. If you want to nitpick about the absurdly stacked bench mostly showing up through free agency, then more power to you, but the reality is that this was mostly* dreamed up by the Celtics’ front office and blessed by KG’s former teammate, Chauncey Billups:
(*Maybe there was some player input behind the scenes. I’ve never heard that there was but it’s not like I can completely rule it out.)
So, to be clear: Billups, who was briefly a Celtic, convinced Garnett to accept a trade to Boston, where he then knocked out Billups’ Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. So, to say the KG trade was a conspiracy to beat LeBron is to imply that Chauncey Billups had a hand in constructing a death machine that would ultimately buzz saw his own squad to get the job done, right?
For what it’s worth, I like the player empowerment movement. Not because of the teams it creates, but for the opportunity it allows for players to get out of a toxic situation. Sure, they might hate where they land regardless, but we can’t control that. We also can’t control incompetent ownership. So, we might as well let the players do as they please.
However, the 2008 Celtics were built organically through asset management and give-and-take trading. No parking lot phone calls needed.
And while the assembly of this team had nothing to do with LeBron James, it did result in him leaving Cleveland and...forming a superteam in Miami by coordinating with his friends to beat the Celtics.
The true modern superteams are marked by one thing in common: player coordination. LeBron’s Heat and the Kevin Durant Warriors are the classic examples, while Kawhi and PG13’s Clippers and the Kyrie/KD Nets are still on hold. The latter teams are also stretching the “superteam” definition pretty far, as they revolve around two stars instead of three or four. But back in the summer of 2007, Ainge thread a needle and constructed that championship. They were super, but not a superteam by today’s standards.