The NBA schedule-makers have a miserable task, and by and large they do a fantastic job. The league has to field 30 NBA teams 82 times throughout the course of the season in 29 NBA arenas, while having to be mindful of travel fatigue, competing dates with hockey and arena-sized musical acts, while saving marquee matchups for nights that can be televised nationally.
The preseason? It’s a little less hectic, especially when you consider that the stars people play to see regularly (and smartly) pass on working heavy minutes.
This made it all the more stranger when the NBA pitted the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics together in Boston on Oct. 23, in an exhibition game. The Nets feature former Celtics Jason Terry, Kevin Garnett, and most importantly Celtic legend Paul Pierce. This means Pierce’s first game back in Boston to rousing applause probably wouldn’t even be nationally televised, and would likely go up against postseason baseball, all prior to a game that wouldn’t count.
Nah, says Pierce. Not happening. From ESPN New York, in a talk with Mike Mazzeo:
Pierce wishes his Jan. 26 return to Boston were sooner in the regular season.
"You just want to get it out of the way. When you gotta go through something tough, I've always been a guy that just wants to get it out of the way. It's gonna be in the back of my mind," Pierce said.
Pierce added that he does not plan to go to Boston for the preseason meeting there against the Celtics.
"I'll do it just one time next year," he said.
Well, “twice,” technically, as the Nets will play in Boston two different times. But in terms of the big rousing tribute from the Celtic faithful, sure, Pierce will only play that up one time.
You can’t blame the guy for skipping out – just a week before a season that Pierce and company hope to stretch some eight months beyond that particular preseason game – or for wishing the Big Return was closer to the start of the season, and not in late January. This means Pierce has to go nearly half a season with that reunion with the Celtics fans on the back of his mind, all while adapting to new surroundings for the first time in his career, 15 and a half years after being drafted by Boston.
You’re probably also pulling out the world’s smallest violin for the ten-time All-Star, but these well-compensated humans are also actual humans that have to work through things both big and small, familiar or completely unprecedented, in order to contribute at their best. Video game Paul Pierce would have no problem adapting, even if Pierce in a Brooklyn Nets uniform is jarring even in a video game setting, but the husband and father-version of Paul Pierce will need a while to shake some things.
In a way, he’s already trying.
It was long assumed that Pierce was not on board with being dealt from the Celtics, preferring to spend his entire career in one uniform. Kevin Garnett, after all, willingly waived a no-trade clause to be part of the deal that broke up the core of the team that won the 2008 title, and Jason Terry seemingly had no problem joining his fourth NBA team. In an interview with SLAM Magazine, though, Pierce explains that he was just fine with avoiding yet another rebuilding situation in Boston, as was the case with his former coach in Doc Rivers:
"Well, I know the insides with everything that’s going on," Pierce told SLAM. "A lot of stuff got blown out of proportion because of the media, but Doc has always said he didn’t want to be a part of a rebuilding situation. I’ve always stated that the past four or five years. After the season, the owners decided they wanted to go in that direction.”
It made Doc look like he was quitting but at the same time it was mutual—everything was mutual at the end. The trade, Doc leaving. I didn’t want to be a part of rebuilding; Kevin didn’t want to be a part of rebuilding; Doc didn’t want to be part of rebuilding. I think it was all mutual. We’ve done so much for the franchise that they wanted to help on our end. So Doc went to L.A., and they sent us to Brooklyn for a chance to win a championship. That’s pretty much the way it was. Nothing more, nothing less."
This is what we wrote when it came time for Doc to move on. Pierce had already done his duty pulling the Celtics from the ashes of the Rick Pitino era, and Rivers had done his job sitting out Danny Ainge’s last rebuilding job after the sustained mediocrity of the Jim O’Brien run as Celtic head coach. If Ainge and the Celtics wanted to go elsewhere with the direction of the franchise, and Rivers and Pierce didn’t mind, then what’s the problem? It’s not as if Pierce issued a trade demand, because this was obviously a deal that both sides wanted.
That sort of sensible agreement won’t stop the hand-wringing or weirdness, and as Pierce himself knows, both sides probably won’t get past the deal until Pierce gets his standing ovation and video tribute in Boston in late January.
Thank goodness he’s already on the hook for some minor knee tendonitis on Oct. 23.
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