Today marks the first day for players to report to training camp and some NBA players aren’t returning. Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan announced their retirements this offseason leaving Paul Pierce as one of the few stars left from the 90’s.
The Boston Celtics drafted Pierce with the 10th overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft. By 2000, he led the team in scoring. With 2,071 total points that season, fourth in the NBA, Pierce was becoming one of the best players in the league.
In the 2001-2002 NBA season, Pierce led the Celtics to the playoffs for the first time in his career. The Celtics played the New Jersey Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals but lost in six games. They returned to the playoffs next season but got swept by the Nets in the semi-finals. The Celtics needed to make moves to move up in the East. Their attempt failed.
The Celtics traded Antoine Walker and Tony Delk before the 2003 NBA season to the Dallas Mavericks for Raef LaFrentz, Jiri Welsch, Chris Mills and a first-round pick. Pierce remained the only talent on the roster. Chucky Atkins finished second on the team with 12 points per game, nine less than Pierce. No one else played at Pierce’s level.
Walker averaged 14 points per game in Dallas, his lowest total since his rookie season. Dallas traded him to the Atlanta Hawks in 2004 and got traded back to the Celtics in 2005. The Celtics lost in the first round of the playoffs and Walker never dressed for the Celtics again. 2005 was a lost season and Pierce’s future in Boston started looking dim.
The next two seasons the Celtics missed the playoffs and combined for 57 wins. Pierce requested a trade and the Celtics finally brought in talent.
At the 2007 NBA Draft the Celtics made some noise acquiring Ray Allen from the Seattle Supersonics. Two days later Danny Ainge stole Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Pierce, Allen and Garnett formed a dominant trio that dominated from the start.
In their first season together, the Celtics won 66 games, placed first in the Eastern Conference and finished second in the NBA in opponents points per game. They brought their dominance with them to the NBA playoffs and won the 2008 NBA Championship. Pierce joined the laundry list of Celtics legends to win an NBA Title.
The Celtics continued their dominance with an appearance in the Eastern Conference and NBA Finals, but never won another title. By 2013, Allen signed with the Miami Heat and Garnett and Pierce started declining. The Celtics moved Pierce and Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets ending an era.
Pierce enters the final season of his NBA career at home with the Los Angeles Clippers. He wrote in the Players Tribune:
“Just like any difficult decision, I think you’ve got to be at peace with yourself. I’m at peace with retiring, but I’ve got one more ride left. One more season. One more opportunity.”
One last season to bring the Clippers where they’ve never been before. The Clippers have never made it to the Western Conference Finals and they’ll have to go through the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs to get there. If anyone on the team is going to help Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan win, it’s Pierce.
All Pierce cares about is winning. He played tough defense and made the big shots in big moments. Pierce’s numbers may have declined since he left the Celtics, but his intensity and big play ability never left. Even though Bryant, Garnett and Duncan retired, one last season with Pierce keeps us reminded of the dominant players from the late 90s. Now Pierce get’s the goodbye season he deserves.
He plays his final game in Boston on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017. Get your tickets now.