|Double ’07: Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Celtics captaincy||03.26.14 at 10:47 am ET|
This is the first in a series on the parallels between Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge‘s last team to miss the NBA playoffs and this year’s lottery-bound squad. A deeper look at the C’s player personnel, potential trade packages and financial flexibility should offer insight into whether or not Ainge can recreate the 2007 magic of acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen seven years later in 2014. (Hence, Double ’07.)
Zero score and seven years ago, Ainge faced a decision that would influence the next decade of his once great franchise: a) Trade a perennial All-Star in his prime to rebuild around a young core and a top-10 draft pick, or b) Trade that young core and the top-10 draft pick to reconstruct around his Celtics captain. Sound familiar?
As the 2014 NBA draft approaches, Ainge will be faced with the same choice he made in 2007. Therefore, the Celtics must first answer a pair of questions: 1) Do they value Rajon Rondo at age 28 the same way they did Paul Pierce at 29? and 2) Who is available at what price? Here, like Ainge, we’ll examine the former first, as it will influence every other decision made this summer (as well as the ensuing posts in this series).
|Paul Pierce still thinks Rajon Rondo can be ‘unstoppable’||03.08.14 at 11:09 am ET|
“He’s unstoppable,” Pierce said of Rondo. “I always said the more he’s improved, the more he’s expanded his game, he’s one of the best. If he’s coming down and knocking down threes, it’s almost impossible to keep him out of the paint at times, he has the floater, the way he finds people in traffic. If he continues to consistently knock down that [3-point] shot, watch out.”
Rondo drilled his first three 3-point attempts Friday night and, except for a hiccup at the end of the third quarter, Rondo and the Celtics didn’t look back in a 91-84 win over Pierce’s Nets Friday night at TD Garden.
Rondo nearly had a triple double, with 20 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
Pierce even gave Rondo an assist of his own, helping Rondo to his feet late in the first half after Rondo took a spill to the floor. He gave the Celtics point guard a pat on the rear and got an ovation from the crowd.
“In the end, me and Rondo share a special bond,” Pierce said. “We’ll always be friends, we’ll always have something in common with our championship, our kids still hang out together.”
Then Pierce went a little further, offering that their kids share that same bond and “hung out for his birthday, actually.” Pierce laughed out loud very hard for several seconds.
Of course, Pierce was very aware of the much ballyhooed Rondo birthday party in Los Angeles last month, when he skipped out on a trip to Sacramento after being asked to travel with the team and not stay behind. Ask Pierce and he’ll tell you all things considered, he’d want Rondo as his captain any day.
“Rondo, I respect him and what he’s doing moving forward with this franchise and it will always be that way,” Pierce added.
If anyone can understand what Rondo is going through right now it’s Pierce. Pierce made the Eastern Conference finals in 2002 and were in the playoffs the next two seasons before the team went through a massive rebuild, bottoming out in 2006-07 with a 24-win season.
“I try to forget those days,” Pierce said, laughing again. “Those were trying days. But you grow from there. I think it made me a better player, physically, mentally, it made me stronger. You can only learn from this process. You find out what type of players you have when you go through moments like this.
“They are a young team, they got a mix of some veterans, some young guys they are developing and they are only going to get better,” said Pierce. “Rondo is leading them right now, moving into the next generation of Celtics. I think their future is going to be very bright.”
|Would Paul Pierce play for Celtics again? ‘Yeah, why not?’||03.07.14 at 11:22 pm ET|
Pierce, who scored 10 points in a 91-84 loss to the C’s on Friday night, has told reporters all season he would like to join the team’s front office when his playing career is over, but this is the first time since joining the Nets he has mentioned potentially playing for his former team again. Pierce is in the final year of his contract with the Nets.
Meanwhile, Pierce had plenty to say about current Celtics captain, even joking about the media firestorm that raged after Rajon Rondo stayed in Los Angeles for his birthday while the C’s played on his off day in Sacramento.
“Me and Rondo share a special bond. We’ll always be friends. We’ll always have something in common with our championship. Our kids still hang out together. They hung out for his birthday actually.” Pierce paused for laughter. “I respect him and what he’s doing moving forward with this franchise, and it will always be that way.”
After watching Rondo surpass his career-high in 3-pointers for a season with three in the first quarter, Pierce complimented his former teammate on the added dimension to Rondo’s game.
“He’s unstoppable. I’ve always said, the more he improves, the more he expands his game, he’s one of the best. If he’s coming down and knocking down 3’s, it’s almost impossible to keep him out of the paint at times. The way he shoots that floater, the way he finds people in traffic, if he consistently knocks down that shot, watch out.”
|Nets’ Kevin Garnett (back) will not travel to Boston||03.06.14 at 4:40 pm ET|
The former Celtics star will miss a fourth straight game with back spasms. He has averaged 6.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 21.0 minutes over 49 games for the Nets (30-29) this season. Mason Plumlee will start at center in Garnett’s absence.
Paul Pierce, however, will make the trip. He is averaging 13.5 points (43.2 FG%), 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.1 steals in 28.8 minutes over 54 games in a Brooklyn uniform. The Celtics paid video tribute to Pierce and Garnett in their emotional return to the Garden on Jan. 26.
“I think as long I’m in the NBA, it’s still going to be a little emotional for me,” Pierce told New York Newsday. “I played so many regular-season games, so many big games on that floor, so many memories that are never going to go away on that floor. So, it’s still going to be a little emotional. Probably not as much, but when you have those memories, it’s tough to let it go.”
|Video: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett come home||01.27.14 at 3:33 pm ET|
“I think we’ll always bleed green as long as we’re playing basketball and as long as we’re living. Even when they bury us six feet, this is what it’s going to be.”
When it comes to covering basketball in Boston, it doesn’t get much better than Sunday night. I could wax poetically about Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and their legacies as Celtics, which I attempted to do in this column, but this 15-minute video sums it up better than any words I could put together on a page. Enjoy.
CSNNE Celtics analyst Tommy Heinsohn talked with Mut & Merloni on Monday about the tributes for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett during Sunday’s game at TD Garden. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
Heinsohn enjoyed the tributes for Garnett and Pierce, saying it exemplified what they and the team stood for.
“Last night with these two great players that brought a championship to Boston exhibited over their careers what the Celtics organization was and has been for many many years; full of spirit, teamwork, and accomplishment,” Heinsohn said.
Heinsohn recalled watching how Pierce grew not only as a player but as a person in his time with the Celtics.
“I’ve watched him grow as a person, as a player, accept all the challenges that anyone could hope to meet,” Heinsohn said. “Take the last shot at games, willingly. Really enjoyed being in that position, and the real tribute to him was when he was named captain and how he went about fulfilling that role. He was a very dedicated guy and worked at his craft all the time. Not just at the basketball end of it, but at the person side of it.”
Added Heinsohn: “He was around all those banners when he first came in, and I coached after the [Bill] Russell era and saw players come in and look up at the banners and the rafters and it became both a blessing and a curse. They feel privileged to play for the Celtics but they also know that they have to live up to the standards, and Paul Pierce certainly did that and recognized what those standards were. Just was an outstanding guy to be around.”
While Garnett was only a Celtic for six years, Heinsohn believes he always had the Celtic attitude and should have his number retired by the organization one day.
“He was totally focused,” Heinsohn said. “When he’d come out on the basketball court there was nothing else in his mind but winning a basketball game. And it wasn’t about him, it was about winning. He wasn’t there to score the most points or do anything else, he was there to be the supreme teammate, to excel in what he did best to help win a game and that embodied the Celtics spirit of the teams I played with and coached.”
Added Heinsohn: “When you see the impact he had on that team, he belongs up there. It was just at a chance that he ended up some place else, because he had the Celtic attitude as soon as he stepped on a basketball court in the NBA.”
Sunday night was hard for Paul Pierce, really hard.
He knew it was coming. It’s been on the schedule since last summer. But when the moment finally came, the former Celtics captain said it was the most difficult game to play in for the obvious reasons.
He just could never picture himself playing against Boston and accepting all the love showered upon him all at once.
“I was telling Kevin, and everybody this was the toughest game I ever had to play,” Pierce said after scoring just six points but helping his team to an 85-79 win over his former Celtics. “Tougher than any championship game, or any Game 7. This game was just really hard to focus and concentrate on what was at hand. At the end of the day we had a game to play but it was so hard to really focus.
“I saw so many friends, so many people I’ve known for years. Ugly cornbread Maxwell back there, my man, my main man. It was hard to really get into my routine, you have a routine when you come and get ready for a game and it never settled in and you thought about the time, the friendships, the relationships and it was just, you get showered with love the whole game. You look up and see so many Kevin jerseys, my jerseys, posters and its every second you are on the bench and in the game people were calling your name. I’m happy we got it over with and I can go back to playing basketball right now.”
Pierce acknowledged that he, Garnett and Rajon Rondo got together for dinner Saturday night before the game.
“We didn’t really bump into anybody in the street but we had a chance to go to dinner with Rondo [Saturday] night,” Pierce said. “We talked to him about his situation here and the things we went through when we were in his situation before. It was good to see him and really, that was pretty much the only guy he had a chance to see. Other than that I really just tried to focus and get back to the hotel and try to get some rest and couldn’t think about anything but today really, it was even hard for me to sleep. Laying in a downtown hotel in Boston when I’m used to being at my house. Getting into the arena, coming in the backside, and making a left instead of a right. Everything was so different, and it was great though.”
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