With the Boston Celtics trading away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, as well as their championship coach, Doc Rivers, they’re in full-on rebuild mode after six years as a consistent threat in the Eastern Conference despite advancing age and subsequent injury. But now Rajon Rondo‘s hall-of-fame teammates are gone, and so is the only coach he’s ever known. It’s his team to lead, and no one knows that better than Pierce.
Pierce spoke with the Boston Globe‘s Gary Washburn about the new situation that both he and Rondo face, with the latter inheriting a leadership role Pierce had assumed for the last decade plus.
First though, Pierce continued to dispel notions Doc and Rondo butted heads and that precipitated Rivers’ journey west.
“Without question [he can be the man in Boston],” Pierce tells Washburn. “I’ve already talked to Rajon; Rajon’s mature. People talk about the relationship with Doc [Rivers], and they probably had their best years over the last two years. So I don’t think that was a reason for Doc leaving. I’ve heard that, but that wasn’t a reason for Doc not coming back.”
Pierce went deeper about Rondo’s new position within a team now lacking their two most vocal leaders. Luckily Rondo had an opportunity to soak up KG and Pierce’s leadership qualities over the last six seasons, which included two appearances in the Finals, one Championship, another Eastern Conference Final and just one season, the last, where they failed to advance to the Conference Semifinals. Now he’s being expected to put what he’s learned to the test and take over as the team’s superintendent in the locker-room and on the floor. Pierce thinks he’s ready.
“Rondo is one of the best players in the league. He’s a guy who can be the face of a franchise. He’s won a championship, he’s been an All-Star. There’s a lot of organizations who don’t even have a face of that caliber.
“I definitely think he’s matured and can handle a lot. I talked to him and he’s ready for the challenge. He knows that it’s his team. He knows he has to be a leader, and from being around me and Kevin [Garnett] and seeing how we work.”
But Pierce was also quick to acknowledge that Rondo can’t do it alone; that he’ll need help from a vocal veteran that can command the same type of respect, like KG did in tandem with Pierce â€” and earlier Ray Allen.
“Rondo’s got to understand he’s got to put responsibility on some of the other guys,” Pierce continued. “Maybe like a Brandon Bass or some of the older players. It’s hard when it comes from just one guy. There’s got to be other guys who command respect on the team, that help out with that role.”
Despite the sage advice to his former teammate, Pierce is experiencing a new city and team for the first time in his career.
After the Celtics were knocked out of the playoffs by the Knicks, Pierce already knew the writing might be on the wall and informed his family to start packing.
“Even before the end of the season I knew there was a chance I might not be here.” Pierce revealed to Washburn. He told his family, “‘you guys [family] have to start preparing for that. We can’t start looking at schools later, this could be it out here.'”
Pierce proved clairvoyant, and now that he’s settled in New York with his family, he’s trying to soak in as much of the area as possible. He’s also ruffled some feathers by directly challenging the Knicks’ hegemony of the New York area, directly invoking their name to shine a spotlight on the inner-city battle. The Brooklyn fans love him for it, too.
“Brooklyn, they love me for the simple fact they hate the Knicks and they know how much I hate the Knicks,” he says. “So it’s like an enemy of theirs is a friend of ours. That’s what I am getting out there. It’s definitely exciting. They’re already talking about the crosstown rivalry. They love sports just as much out there as they do [in Boston]. That’s a sports animal. They live on it.”
Aside from reminding the Knicks he’s still a thorn in their side â€” only now just across the East River â€” Pierce also admitted to a desire to outlast his peers.
“My goal is to outlast [Tim] Duncan, Kobe [Bryant], Dirk [Nowitzki], and KG, this is what’s left of that generation,” he said. “I’m looking at all of them. We all are kind of in the same boat where [retirement] can happen in the next year or two. Vince [Carter] is in there. He’s still playing. They still look strong, so I want to continue to look strong.”
The 35-year-old Pierce will be turning 36 before the season begins, but his words reflect a competitive edge that hasn’t been dulled by this summer’s trade or the encroaching shuffle of Father Time. If you’re a Nets fan, this is exactly what you want to hear. If you’re a fan of another Eastern Conference contender, it might just make you wince.
What do you think?
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