I don’t remember how I felt the night we traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. I went all the way back to that day in 2013 on my Twitter to see if I could piece together my thoughts on what had just happened. I seemed sad, like most Celtics fans I assume were, but more than that, I seemed wistful. Wistful because, I would miss Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, I had never seen a Celtics team without them.
What I do remember from that day is how upset Bill Simmons was whilst he was on live TV covering the NBA Draft, I remember thinking about how the team that I grew up watching was gone, and wondering if and how my Celtics fandom would change because of that. And although I had never watched Paul Pierce without Kevin Garnett being on the roster, I remember knowing why losing him was far more serious than losing Garnett. Even though I think most would say Garnett was the better player. He scored as many points as Pierce while also rebounding, leading the defense, and being a freak athlete. Garnett was an MVP, a defensive player of the year, and a perennial all star, but he wasn’t a lifelong Celtic, like Pierce was.
Pierce leaving meant he would lose that tag that we all wanted him to retain. He would no longer be one of the players that spent his whole career with one team, and trading that away was heartbreaking to many in Celtics nation. I can still remember the look on his face when he did his first interview as a Net with Jackie MacMullan, Kevin Garnett by his side, dressed as if they were at a funeral. I remember the sadness I saw on Pierce’s face, almost an emptiness, and it was easy to see that he didn’t want to be a Net, he wanted to be a Celtic.
That very same draft night, another team traded away their all star for a draft pick, Philadelphia. They traded Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans, which started what is now known as ‘The Process’. Tanking, bottoming out, for years to accumulate as many high draft picks as possible, opting to not build a team with those draft picks, but rather accumulate the best assets, even if that means drafting a center with your first selection 3 years in a row. All the while being scrutinized by the media every single step of the way. Philly’s process was hated on, but it worked. Now they have Embiid, Simmons, and what looks like a very bright future. Meanwhile, the Celtics were plotting to build their team up a different way.
The most painful part of the Celtics process came at the beginning. Paul Pierce was our guy, having to see him put on another jersey was a hard pill to swallow for everyone, and not many people had much hope at that point. We had to trust that trading Pierce and KG was the right decision, that was our process. After one season with Rondo as the top dog in Boston, Danny Ainge traded his expiring contract to Dallas, for what ended up being Jae Crowder, and stashed first round pick Guershon Yabusele. Philly was offered Isaiah Thomas in their 2015 deal with Milwaukee and Phoenix, they didn’t want him. Philly feared Isaiah might ruin their tanking plans, so they passed on IT, and Danny Ainge happily stepped in. The Celtics ended up trading Tayshaun Prince, Marcus Thornton and, and last year's Cavaliers first round pick and receiving Thomas and current teammate Jonas Jerebko. While Philly bottomed out, Boston stocked up. Getting their roster to the playoffs after 1 year in the lottery. They built a formidable enough roster to tie for 3rd place in the east last year, not good enough to win a first round series, but just good enough to land the 2nd best free agent this past offseason. Philly won 10 games last year while Boston won 48. One pick separated them in the lottery. The Celtics started their journey at the same time Philly did, all the while following their own process.
Celtics fans may have lost Paul Pierce, but they gained a future. Still, keeping Paul Pierce would have been nice, but that trade makes his legacy much different now. Paul Pierce will be known as the man that led the Celtics for 15 seasons, through ups and downs, and playoff runs, and to an NBA championship. Now, he will also be the man that’s departure spawned the future of the franchise. It may not have been easy, but giving up Paul Pierce on that day in 2013 may go down as one of the biggest days in Celtics history for a different reason than we’d originally thought. Celtics fans have had to trust their own process ever since that day, and they have. Danny Ainge has asked us to sit back and be patient, and we are now being rewarded.
It’s been a long and confusing road, and the vision still isn’t a clear one, however, we know that their is a bright light at the end of the tunnel after all. We still have a ways to go, but it’s important we look back and thank both Danny Ainge and Paul Pierce. That trade couldn’t have been easy for either of them at the time. Celtics fans didn’t know at the time that we’d be sitting in the position we are today. With a tie for the 2 seed in one hand and the best odds in the lottery in the other.
Years later, the Brooklyn trade looks like highway robbery, but what most miss is that the Celtics gave up more than the Nets gained. We gave up the defining player of that era of Celtics basketball. We gave up being able to have Paul play his whole career here like Bird and Russell did before him. I still miss seeing Paul Pierce in Celtics green, and I don’t think that will ever go away. Like I said, he’s the man who defined an era of Celtics basketball, and now he’ll define another one. This may be the last season Paul has left, but I do expect to see him sign one more contract before he goes. A one day contract, with a team up in the northeast. So thanks Paul, for the past, and the future.
Photo Credit: (News Day)