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The NBA offseason has brought many changes to rosters, coaching staffs, and the list of championship contenders. As we draw closer to opening night, it's time to move our focus from the potential impact of each offseason event and onto the broader issues that figure to define this season. The BDL 25 takes stock of, uh, 25 key storylines to get you up to speed on where the most fascinating teams, players, and people stand on the brink of 2015-16.
When Paul Pierce was dealt to the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2013, the immediate reaction by most (after, of course, marveling at the Nets’ absurd payroll) was that the lifetime Celtic was going to look awfully weird in his new uniform. Pierce had been the subject of trade rumors at times during the low point of his Celtics career some years earlier, but nothing was ever consummated, and now after 15 years he was going to be wearing different colors.
Pierce made it work, though, even if the Nets could not. Following one season with that team he jumped to the Washington Wizards – again, “that’ll look weird” – but Pierce again looked resplendent in his Wizards uni.
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Another summer, and another team. Paul Pierce won’t look all that great in his new Los Angeles Clippers uniform, because nobody will look good in those terrible uniforms, but his debut with the team will mark his fourth uniform in 20 months.
And it sorts of suits him. Out of nowhere, Paul Pierce is turning into a journeyman. And he’s A-OK with that.
There isn’t much precedence for this. The NBA didn’t even have its first unrestricted free agent until 1988, when Tom Chambers broke the seal, so when older legends bounced around in unfamiliar uniforms it was usually at their former team’s behest, and only for one or two years tops before the legs finally gave out (why else would you trade a Hall of Famer anyway, were it not for gray in the beard). There just wasn’t a lot of movement for stars to create their own destiny.
Players like Shaquille O’Neal (six teams), Vince Carter (six teams), Tracy McGrady (six as well), Dikembe Mutombo (seven) and Moses Malone (seven NBA teams, including the 76ers twice, two ABA teams) have bounced around quite a bit, but those stars were itinerants in their mid-20s or even earlier, unlike Pierce. Scottie Pippen looked awful in Houston’s pinstripes for one season after 11 years in Chicago, but he spent a committed four years in Portland before returning to retire a Bull. Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon played for three different combined teams after moving on from New York and Houston, but only a combined 120 starts as their legs faded.
Pierce’s closest comp would seem to be Gary Payton – who was dealt against his wishes to Milwaukee after 13 seasons. GP played for the Bucks, Lakers, Celtics and Heat (not including an inactive stint in Atlanta) between 2003 and 2007, to much derision. Accused of chasing a championship ring (and this is a bad thing … how?), GP eventually won one in Miami in 2006.
Paul Pierce already has his ring, which is why his closest comparison might be to that of former Celtics and Nets teammate Kevin Garnett. KG played a dozen years in Minnesota before being traded to Boston, and though he’s back in Minnesota he was still seen working in his third uniform in 21 months last February.
As with Garnett in Minnesota, The Truth won’t be lighting things up with the Clippers, but the team badly wanted the opportunity to potentially pay him until he’s 40. The Wizards, even with an obvious replacement in Otto Porter, were not happy to see him leave. The same goes for the Nets, as he acted as one of the few accountable voices in that locker room. Celtics general manager Danny Ainge agonized over dealing Pierce in 2013 and attempted to re-sign him this summer.
Everyone likes the guy, is what we’re after here. Just how long they’ll get to like him, however, is up for debate as former and current Pierce coach Doc Rivers studies his minutes allotment.
The Clippers are notoriously thin, they’ve added Pierce, Josh Smith and a wild card (to put it mildly) in Lance Stephenson, but they’ve also lost Matt Barnes and are forever lacking in depth. This is why, even with recent acquisition Wesley Johnson having contributed a less than stellar career so far, the Clippers are reportedly considering bringing Pierce in off the bench behind Johnson to start the year.
And with Matt Barnes now in Memphis, it would made sense for Pierce to slide into the starting lineup, a place where he’s been for all but 10 of his 1,400-plus career games.
But whispers out of the Clippers’ training facility in Playa Vista make it sound like that plan isn’t set in stone.
Wes Johnson, who the Clippers signed in free agency from the Lakers, is still being considered as an option to start, sending Pierce to the bench.
The immediate reaction to this was not kind. Plenty of “dude, you know Wesley Johnson sucks, right” shots on Twitter. Guffaws at Doc Rivers the coach trying to cover the sins of Doc Rivers the GM.
Johnson is just fine, though. And Pierce coming off the bench is not the worst thing.
Washington limited Pierce to 26 minutes a game last year, and saved him (some would argue for the Clippers) during the regular season by refusing to play him as a stretch power forward. He’ll turn 38 in training camp, and though 25 minutes off the bench wear you just as much as 25 starter’s minutes (it’s possible that coming off the bench is even tougher, after overcoming rust following warm-ups), it’s still an option worth considering.
Pierce is a professional, and it’s important to remember that even if Rivers does sit him on opening night that these things aren’t set in stone. If you can shift starting lineups in a playoff series in June, you can certainly do it in season that you hope runs for eight months and a hundred-plus games.
Paul Pierce, at his age, isn’t some panacea as a scorer off the bench. Even Jamal Crawford might still be better than the future Hall of Famer at this point as a go-to scorer off the pine, but he is a guy that can capably sop up minutes. It’s fair to say that in Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and (reportedly, he hopes) DeAndre Jordan the Clippers have a fair amount of high-usage players in the starting lineup, so perhaps Pierce would be best dominating the ball with the second unit.
It’d be another change for him, another oddity as he takes his warm-ups off to enter the game. Another weird thing to look at.
It hardly matters at this point. Paul Pierce, and all of us, are used to this.
Previously, on BDL 25:
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