|Posted by paul on July 22, 2013 at 5:15 AM|
It's been very emotional for Celtics fans over the past week or so. Shawn has done an amazing job writing about all this. First we had the farewell video from Pierce, and then the Nets presser with Pierce and KG, and then the JackieMac interview with those guys. Wow. Paul Pierce and KG really honored the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one, with grace, humor, emotion and insight.
I've been very critical of Pierce, which has led some to claim that I have something against him. Well, that's not true. It's a matter of context. I am generally critical of Pierce because I see him as someone who, like Allen, never could fully accept Rondo's rise on the team. In that context, I am critical of him. Beyond that, though, I think he's an incredibly likeable player. His game is one of the most fun to watch I've ever seen, and what makes it even more fun is the way it seems to reflect his personality. Pierce is maybe the most human star player I can recall seeing in the NBA. I don't know how to break that down, exactly. He just seems very human. He's smart, he's funny, he's full of contradictions. He's a trickster. He has a way of making defenders think they've got him cornered, and it's just then that he has them where he wants them. There are few things more fun than watching Pierce's slow motion drives to the hoop, or to his favorite spot near the elbow, always with defenders draped all over him. Just when you think you've got him, he's got you.
I'll say another critical thing about Pierce. I don't think the's the greatest Celtics scorer of alltime. I would put both Larry Bird and Kevin Mchale ahead of him. Third is pretty darned good amidst such a great tradition, I think! Hell, Pierce is one of the greatest scorers of all time in the NBA, isn't he? But Larry Bird was so incredible. Bird could easily, I think, have scored many more ppg than he did. He did not have Jordan's athleticism, and he didn't have Kareem's unstoppable skyhook, nor Wilt's sheer physical dominance, but I don't think any player has ever been so deadly in so many different ways. Then there's Kevin. To my mind, Mchale redefined pivot play. I don't recall anyone before or since with such an array of moves. Like Bird, he didn't have that one unstoppable shot that Kareem had, and he didn't have the range many bigs today have, but he had that funny, awkward gracefulness that Kareem had, and he spread Kareem's artfulness over a wide variety of moves. He turned pivot play into a dance. No one else ever did that. I wish he would teach some of his moves to Olynyk, just as I wish Cowens would work with Sully. Mchale could have scored a lot more points had he not shared the limelight with Bird and Parrish, had the offense been built around him.
To me, Pierce is the Celtics' third greatest scorer of alltime.
My main point about Pierce, for several years now, has been that he has seemed to me unwilling to truly cede team leadership to Rondo, especially on the offensive end, even as it really became more and more necessary for him to do so, as Rondo became increasingly a force that could not be constrained. I think the last few days have tended to confirm this view. While Pierce's Thankyou video to Celtics fans seemed to ungraciously exclude Rondo, his words to the media were far more benevolent towards Rondo. Pierce spoke of his sadness at leaving Rondo, and relayed parting words of advice to the young star, and it all seemed very sincere. Pierce is, I think, a man of contradictions. So let's also acknowledge that on some level Pierce seemed to welcome the change, which he says he forsaw well ahead of time. This was to some extent his choice, not just something that happened to him, even to the point where he twisted KG's arm to accompany him to the Nets. As much as Pierce may have regretted leaving Rondo, his concern for Rondo's future didn't keep him from persuading Rondo's vital ally, KG, to also leave Rondo. I like Pierce. I think his emotionalism about leaving the Celtics and Rondo was sincere, but that doesn't mean that a few crocodile tears weren't mixed in with all the others.
It's eerie, in a way, to see these words from Pierce, because of the way they seem to remind one of Ray Allen...
On a team run by Deron Williams, Pierce told the Boston Globe that he is ready for his role as a "glorified role player" in Brooklyn.
“There will definitely be less pressure on me on this ball club than there was in Boston,” Pierce said. “In Boston, I was the No. 1 primary option. Here we have so many options. We have young All-Stars on this team. My job is to be more of a glorified role player, as Doc [Rivers] used to always say, with the guys we have."
Remember, Allen too seemed unwilling to give up his glory role while on the Celtics, but was perfectly ready to give it up the instant he moved to another team. What this implies is clear, I think: that both Allen and Pierce should have become less central to the Celtics offense over time -- they just didn't. I think it's been clear for a long time that Rondo should have been our number one option. I'm not saying that he should have been the top scorer, of course, but that he should have been the primary offensive threat that the others played off of. KG fully accepted the idea that he could get a lot off offense by playing off Rondo. Allen and Pierce just never could, even though I'd say i'ts been perfectly obvious for years that even without a reliable jumper, Rondo has been the guy who makes defenses react like a chicken coop reacts to the presence of a fox. I blame Doc for a lot of this. Doc's primary concern, as a coach, seemed to be to coddle the egos of the Big Three, especially Pierce. How Ironic that Rondo gets so much grief for being the 'bad son'! Imagine how you would have felt all these years if you were Rondo, presumably knowing that you could do so much more if you were only given a chance, but knowing that you'd mainly be the one getting the blame as long as the Three Saints were around. It's surely been very, very tough. Perhaps we should marvel at how well Rondo has stood the strain. How many hot young stars would have handled such subjugation so gracefully? Walk the ball up. Hand it to Pierce. Walk the ball up. Hand it to Ray.
I'm increasingly convinced that Danny Ainge saw the same thing last year that many of us saw, I believe: that, as much as Rondo failed to step up (especially defensively) into the leadership role, he was also blocked by the presence of the remaining Big Three guys, particularly Pierce (now allied to Jason Terry) from being able to fully embrace the leadership role. Did Rondo fail or was he blocked? It seems to have been a bit of both. Doc seemed almost relieved, I think, when Rondo finally went down to injury, and Doc could just ride the Big Two the rest of the way. No more unsettling tension between the Young Gun and the Old Gun. Just Guts and Glory and True Grit. One last shootout at the NBA Corral. How embarrassing for Doc, and for the Old Uns, when it turned out that sans Rondo they were shooting blanks.
And as much as I understand the emotion that many fans have felt over the departure of KG and Pierce, I don't really understand why many assume that we will be crap without those two guys. For God's sake, if Pierce and KG were still such all-fired great and dominant players, why don't they instantly take over in Brooklyn? I'm not slagging them by asking this. Not at all. I think they are still amazing players. But are we really going to spend the next five years moaning that "KG and Paul Pierce are not coming through that door!"? We still perilously lack a real center, but we do have quite a few interesting players. I think that Ainge has once again done a rather amazing job of assembling some interesting talent. Yesterday I read an article about Olynyk ...
... which makes it sound like he's a guy that Rondo will absolutely love playing with. We already know that Sully and Bradley seem to have a lot of rapport with Rondo (which, in Bradley's case, I suspect might be even better if Jason Terry isn't around), and it looks like Stevens and Rondo may also be very sympatico. Green and Lee both seem motivated to prove themselves. If Rondo is able to come back strong, we may see this team really flourish around him next year.
I thought that Kris Humphries said some of the most revelatory words at the recent 'new Celtics' press conference. When asked about Rondo, he seemed to make a point of saying that he hoped to win Rondo's respect. These words seemed to me to signal that a new day has finally dawned in the Land of Green. It's sad that an uprooting had to happen, but finally the guard has changed. This is now truly Rondo's team. Danny has developed a team full of players who are smart, who like to rebound, who are able and willing to run, who all seem to recognize that their chances for success depend on how well they are able to play off Rondo. Humphries just put it more boldly than anyone else. 'I'm here and I need to earn Rondo's respect'. We have an interesting mix, too, of young talent eager to prove itself, and older talent eager for another chance. This team could become Rondo's Roundup.
Now a lot depends on how well Rondo recovers from his injury, how well he and Stevens are able to communicate, and whether Rondo buckles down on defense. This team could be fun.