BOSTON — You don’t often hear his name mentioned on the list of potential, difference-making free agents this summer. OK, you never hear it. And that’s OK with Paul Pierce.
“I can still play. I can still make a contribution,’’ he said. This is a man whose game may be on the decline, but whose confidence clearly is not.
“I’m kind of lost in the shuffle right now,’’ he added. “You don’t hear my name out there. You hear Melo (Carmelo Anthony.) You hear LeBron (James.) But you don’t hear my name.”
Pierce is, indeed, an unrestricted free agent-to-be. He could be in a class this summer that not only includes Anthony and James, but also Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and his former teammate, Ray Allen.
He will be 37 this summer when he is eligible to receive suitors. He can choose his next employer, something he really hasn’t been able to do over 16 years in the NBA. In the past, he’d always end up re-signing with the Celtics, who paid him well.
Then came last summer and the Celtics Diaspora.
Pierce was either going to be traded or bought out; there was no way he was returning to the rebuilding Celtics for $15.3 million a year. Danny Ainge was blowing it up and Pierce had already suffered through one of those Biblical droughts. He wanted no part of another one.
He was traded to the Nets. He didn’t choose them. They chose him. He’s on a better team, for sure, but it’s a flawed team that doesn’t rebound and has no inside presence on offense or defense. It is, as Bob Dylan would say, goin’ nowhere.
Would Pierce want another year of that, assuming the Nets want him back? Would he abandon Kevin Garnett at the first opportunity after convincing him to join him in Brooklyn? (Don’t forget, however, that KG was ready to go the Clippers with Doc Rivers until the NBA stepped in. Pierce was not a part of that.)
Or would a confluence of justice, mercy, history and serendipity land him back in Boston to finish his career where he started it? Stranger things have happened.
“Why not? Play for them. Work for them. You never know,’’ Pierce said. He later was a bit more definitive when asked if he’d consider returning to play for the Celtics.
“Without a doubt,’’ he told SheridanHoops.
Well, of course he’s going to say that. He’s not going to eliminate any option at this point. And as much as he might want to return to Boston, it means nothing if the love isn’t reciprocated. Otherwise, it’s a non-starter.
But how could the Celtics not want Pierce back, even at 37, especially someone who knows the many worlds of Rajon Rondo? Ownership has always liked Pierce. Clearly, the fans in Boston love him. It would be the ultimate reunion story.
Money could always be an issue. OK, money is always the issue. Pierce is in no position at this stage of his career to command big dollars, nor, presumably, does he need another eight-figure deal to pay the utility bill. Unless he invested with Bernie Madoff, he should be fine financially.
He’d fit nicely into one of those exceptions that litter the CBA landscape. He has to know that. He has to know that other teams know that as well.
While Boston would make for a good, Hollywood storyline, Pierce’s other legitimate option would be to return to the real Hollywood and join the Clippers. He’d be re-united with Rivers. He’d be on a team with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. He’d have a chance to win another ring, something that isn’t going to happen in Boston. He’d really be going home this time, having been raised in Inglewood.
Watching Pierce play, its clear he has some game left. He’s not the volume scorer of yore, nor would he need to be, or expected to be, in Boston or LA. He could be equal parts mentor, coach, gray eminence and occasional assassin for the Celtics. And wouldn’t Brad Stevens want someone like Pierce in his locker room with all those impressionable youngins?
Pierce played his last game in Boston for the 2013-14 season on Friday night. It was nowhere near the three-ply special of Jan. 26, when he was emotionally wrought at the prospect of playing in TD Garden for a Celtics’ opponent. There weren’t any signs. There was no video tribute. He got a warm ovation when introduced.
He never wanted to leave. But he understood it had to happen. Now, after a year on a .500 team in a horrible conference, he is trying to make the best of what looks like a sure-lose proposition.
What he does next will be worth watching. No one would blame him if he chased a championship in Los Angeles. But how much neater (to use a Larry Brown word) would it be to see him back in Boston, back where many feel he still should be, Paul Pierce among them?
As he put it, you never know.
Peter May is the only writer who covered the final NBA games played by Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. He has covered the league for three decades for The Hartford Courant and The Boston Globe and has written three books on the Boston Celtics. His work also appears in The New York Times. You can follow him on Twitter.
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