Danny Ainge may be giving the players some time away from basketball, but we are calling every player on the roster into our Celtics Town offices for their exit interviews for the rest of this week. Here’s the first in the series: Paul Pierce.
You’ll have to pardon us (and by “us,” of course, I mean the entire Celtics blogosphere and Twitter) if we are waxing unnecessarily poetic about you. After all of the things Boston has been through in the past year, it’s hard not to see 2013 as the end of the line for the KG/Paul Pierce era in Boston. And that’s tough for us to handle.
After all, even in your 15th season, there was an extended stretch after Rondo went down during which you put the Celtics on your back and carried them. You didn’t always shoot efficiently, but you calmed the troops down often when you were in the game. For a team that committed a hundred terrible turnovers per game, your calming influence was unspeakably important on the floor, even when you were contributing to the turnover problem. Everything just felt a little safer when you were out there.
Of course, your contributions extended beyond the intangible. Inefficient or not, you contributed a ton of much-needed scoring to this team and, perhaps most notably, a heavy bulk of the rebounding after Rondo went down. The Celtics still sucked at rebounding, both defensive and offensive, but in the regular season, you helped make the problem a little less pronounced.
You had a rough postseason, to be sure. That’s due in no small part to the absurd amount of minutes you played. If you return to Boston, you absolutely need fewer minutes. You played over 100 minutes more this season than you did in 2009-’10…a year in which Boston’s postseason run was extended by three whole more rounds of six games or more. You have now played 40,360 minutes in your career. My knees start to get sore after running an hour and a half at the rec center, and I’m twelve years younger than you. Basically, I totally get how you were run down in the playoffs, and how you struggled to find your range and comfort zone against a defensive monster like Iman Shumpert. Long, athletic defenders don’t always give you problems because you have an incredible amount of of offensive savvy, but Shumpert is a talented defender, and he was a nightmare. If you come back next year, you will have to be on a serious minutes limit for EVERYONE’S sake, including your own.
But I’m concerned with this concept. We’ve all heard the “minutes limit” idea before. KG, for example, was supposed to be on a 20-ish minute limit all season, but he ended up averaging 29.7 minutes during the regular season because he was just so much better, even worn down, than any of the other options.
Therein lies the problem. Even if Doc starts off with the admirable idea of keeping you on the bench to dominate an opponent’s second unit in limited minutes, we all know that you are too talented to stay on the roster as a back-up, especially since your contract (and probably Garnett’s contract, if you stay) would preclude the Celtics from coming up with a serviceable small forward to replace you in the starting lineup. Jeff Green was revelatory this year, but he was best (by far) at a sort of stretch-4 position, which means Boston would have to either go super small and play a shooting guard at your position, or they’ll have to hope they get a solid draft pick…in the middle of the first round.
All of that being said, you deserve what YOU want. We have had the rare honor of seeing you grow up as an athlete in your time in Boston, and I’m not sure there’s another NBA team who can claim the same kind of progression from a superstar. We saw you come in young and talented. Now you have developed into the kind of captain and leader that most rosters can only dream of. I hope it doesn’t sound condescending for me to say this as, once again, someone twelve years your junior, but I think I speak for just about every Celtics’ fan when I say we are incredibly, incredibly proud of you. Not just of your accomplishments (although that too) but also that we get to cheer for you.
I don’t know if you’ll be back next year, Paul. If you aren’t, your next destination will automatically become just about every Celtics fan’s second favorite team. I think I could cheer for any team besides the Lakers if you ended up on them (for the love of everything, Danny, don’t trade Paul to the Lakers. I will find you). But if Danny does decide to let your contract end in Boston, good basketball moves be damned, know that we as fans would be absolutely thrilled.
If he doesn’t? Sincerely, thank you. Thank you for everything.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.