For Pierce, scars linger in painful Celtics season
By Jackie MacMullan, Globe Staff | March 30, 2007
WALTHAM -- Losing is the only thing that got them noticed.
The irony of that is not lost on Paul Pierce, the franchise player for a Boston Celtics team virtually ignored across the nation until it dropped 18 consecutive games.
The Celtics remain in the spotlight as they wind down a dismal 2006-07 campaign. Pundits continue to track their futility so they can handicap the Celtics' chances of landing Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. The team's fans wish fervently for a hard-fought game highlighted by dunks from Gerald Green, no-look passes from Rajon Rondo, and another notch in the loss column.
Pierce has grown accustomed to the Just Lose Baby! mentality of paying customers. But for Boston's five-time All-Star, who will turn 30 Oct. 13, the lost year represents another squandered attempt to coax the Celtics back to respectability.
"It's definitely another year gone by for me," Pierce said. "It's another year we don't get into the postseason. It's another year I don't get recognized for the things I do. I'm the classic case of a great player on a bad team, and it stinks."
Pierce has been a model captain this season. He genuinely enjoyed participating in the development of his younger teammates and has toiled through injuries and frustrations without complaint. He plays hard, he plays hurt, and he has maintained his poise throughout.
But he is tired of waiting for the resurgence of the Celtics. Pierce signed a contract extension last July that locks him up until he's 33. Asked if he regretted signing the deal, which paid him the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, he merely smiled.
"I'm waiting to see what happens this summer," he said. "We have to see who we keep and who has enough potential trade value to make a difference.
"I'm not talking about winning a few more games. I'm talking about getting into the playoffs, going deep into the playoffs. I don't want to be a team that just sneaks in. I want to be on a team that everyone says before the season, 'This is a team that's going somewhere,' like Detroit.
"Either we go for it, or we don't."
Truth and consequences
Pierce concedes he is bothered by his diminished standing in the game because of his affiliation with the Celtics. He is not featured in NBA promos. Even though he was injured during All-Star balloting, his name was rarely mentioned as a worthy choice had he been healthy. Boston was one of just six teams that did not appear on national broadcasts this season. Major endorsement opportunities outside of New England have slowed to a trickle. "The Truth" has become an afterthought.
"I want to be recognized for what I've accomplished," Pierce said. "That may sound selfish, but I've sacrificed a lot. I want to win. That's all I want. Most great players are selfish.
"We're not on a winning team, and as long as that's true, I don't get recognized as one of the top players in the league. We're never on TV. I wasn't part of the All-Star Game [this season]. We just don't get the benefit of so many other things that winning teams get."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers maintains next season, when the team is healthy and a year older, all of those perks will resurface. He and Pierce contend they would have been a playoff team this season had Pierce not suffered a stress reaction in his left foot and missed 24 games.
"But I understand Paul's frustration," Rivers said. "He deserves to be an All-Star. He deserves to be on ABC, so people can see him. The problem is no one wants to see us."
How Boston's front office rectifies that situation will determine whether Pierce will want to remain in Boston. This summer is the most critical in the tenure of head of basketball operations Danny Ainge, who will be dealing from strength with a high draft pick, an expiring contract (Theo Ratliff's $11.66 million), and a cadre of young players that includes Al Jefferson, Delonte West, Tony Allen, and Rondo.
If the pick is No. 1 or No. 2, the Celtics will draft Oden or Durant (in that order). If it's No. 3 or lower, team sources said, they will shop it.
It's not that he has a huge ego or anything Elite. He's unhappy because despite some of the young guys taking big steps forward this year (specifically Al Jefferson), he still doesn't really have that #2 or 1b option to help win on a consistent basis. Wally was supposed to be that guy, but he's always hurt and it's questionable whether or not he has the talent to play that role for the team when he is healthy.
The most telling part of his quotes that you highlited is "I want to win. That's all I want". That coupled with what he says on page three of that article...
Pierce said he's willing to reach out and sell Boston to potential acquisitions.
"I'd love to play with Garnett," Pierce said. "Jermaine O'Neal, too. Boozer's a good player, but he's been hurt so much. Guys with a short history of getting hurt are always going to get hurt.
"I also like Gasol. He's proven. He could have easily said this season, 'We suck every night, I'm not going to play,' but he didn't. He put up numbers instead.
...really shows what he's trying to say here - he's not willing to play the 'youth movement' game for the rest of his career and he wants Danny Ainge to shop that pick this summer to bring in a proven vet to help him win now.