For a decade and a half, Paul Pierce has pulled a Boston Celtics jersey over his head, stepped out on the floor, and did everything he could to help carry the team to a win. That was his job.
Fifteen years and nearly 27,000 combined regular season and playoff points later Pierce now finds himself in a completely new situation for a completely new team.
“There will definitely be less pressure on me on this ball club than there was in Boston,” Pierce said. “In Boston, I was the No. 1 primary option. Here we have so many options. We have young All-Stars on this team. My job is to be more of a glorified role player, as Doc [Rivers] used to always say, with the guys we have.
“With my abilities to do so many things, there’s going to be nights where I’m not going to score a bunch of points. I can do other things to help this club win. With the combination of these guys, we’re going to take pressure off each other.”
The past few years have been taxing for Pierce, who will turn 36 at the beginning of this upcoming season. Even with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo by his side, the Celtics have relied on Pierce to be THE go-to guy. Last season, as injuries sapped the Celtics, it was Pierce who was forced to step up and fill the void.
As great as Pierce has been, the added burden of trying to play point-forward in Rondo's absence while still filling the role of primary scorer caught up to him in the playoffs.
Pierce played 42.5 minute per game against the Knicks, the second most minutes he has averaged in the playoffs since he entered the league. He responded with his second-lowest field goal percentage and second highest turnover rate of his playoff career. And while the Knicks scheme of blitzing Pierce on every pick and roll was a huge factor in that, so was Pierce's inability to do anything about it anymore.
He was exhausted and over-worked, and he looked it.
Now with the Brooklyn Nets, Pierce can relax a bit. With the signing of Andrei Kirilenko, the Nets could even decide to start Pierce on the bench and let him take advantage of second-team matchups while keeping his minutes down. Then, if the Nets have a late fourth-quarter lead, Kirilenko can finish while Pierce enjoys the best view in the house. And if the Nets need late buckets, then Pierce can finish in a line up with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Garnett, Brook Lopez.
Who will you double off of in that lineup?
The newly minted Nets talked about sacrifices when they were introduced last week. Pierce and Garnett both delivered a message of taking personal steps back for the overall benefit of the team as a whole. For guys like Williams, Johnson, and Lopez, watching ring-wearing future Hall of Famers join the team and make their own sacrifices could be the biggest benefit of all in this trade.
If Paul Pierce is already talking about his own sacrifices, how can they not make their own? If the season rolls around and Pierce does indeed come off the bench, then who is anyone on that team to pursue their own personal goals over the team's championship aspirations?
For Pierce, the step back is not just a way to get more out of his legs for however many years he has got left in this league. It is also the practice of his preaching. The only way to make an assembly of talent like this work is for everyone to become one great team, not a team of great individual players.*
Pierce has been a Net for about a week, but he's already teaching them valuable lessons about what it takes to win.
*Does not apply to teams with the following players: James, LeBron.